Rana Moussaoui, AFP
Last updated: 13 March, 2012

Damascus fights back in media tug-of-war

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has launched a counter-offensive against what it says are lies by foreign media groups hell-bent on serving the propaganda interests of gangs terrorising Syria.

Anti-regime activists on Monday posted online videos showing the bodies of dozens of women and children they said were massacred by regime forces in Karm el-Zaytoun district of the flashpoint city of Homs, in central Syria.

News broadcasters beamed grisly images of the bodies of 26 children and 21 women, some with their throats slit and others bearing stab wounds, around the world, as the opposition pushed for foreign military intervention in Syria.

Syrian state television quickly responded with counter-claims that Sunday’s killings were carried out by “armed terrorist gangs” out to grab the propaganda spotlight and discredit Assad’s regime internationally.

“We are used to them committing more crimes before meetings of the UN Security Council,” it said, while denouncing “hysteria” in the foreign media over events in Syria.

State television ran its own version of the massacre, showing bodies it said were filmed in Karm el-Zaytoun. “The terrorists committed these crimes to satisfy their thirst for blood,” it charged in comments broadcast throughout the day.

The regime imposes strict curbs on foreign media covering the year-long conflict which the United Nations says has cost more than 8,000 lives but Syrian television was out on Monday to interview Karm el-Zaytoun residents.

“It’s because they were supporters of the state that the gunmen killed them,” said one of those interviewed. Another said: “This is what the terrorists mean by their demands for freedom.”

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a major daily source of information for the foreign media, dismisses such reports as part of a “media and psychological war.”

“The official media speak of a ‘truth’ which serves the regime, not the reality on the ground,” he said.

The United States last week slapped economic sanctions on Syrian General Organisation of Radio and TV, accusing the state media network of aiding the regime in its brutal crackdown on dissent.

The network “has served as an arm of the Syrian regime as it mounts increasingly barbaric attacks on its own population and seeks both to mask and legitimise its violence,” said Adam Szubin, a US Treasury official.

Syria hit back, saying the sanctions were “a violation of freedom of opinion and the press which the United States and Western countries boast about.”

With its daily diet of scenes from ordinary life, of shoppers out and about, children playing in the snow, of the country’s archaeological sites, the message on state television has been clear: everything is normal in Assad’s country.

“In the old days this was a successful technique. Now it’s harder. Videos speak a million word, brutality cannot be coverd up,” Andrew Tabler, author of a book on the Syrian regime, “In the Lion’s Den,” told AFP.

While accusing news channels such as CNN and Al-Jazeera of using activists to spread fake testimony of regime abuses, state media have focused their wrath on Qatar and Saudi Arabia, advocates of arming the opposition.

On Monday, Information Minister Adnan Mahmud accused satellite news channels financed by the two wealthy Gulf states of employing gunmen as correspondents, referring to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

For its part, Syrian television regularly broadcasts “confessions of repentant terrorists.”