Adamantly spinning the war in Syria

Friday 30/10/2015
Sending the message. Spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova at a news briefing in Moscow.

Damascus - Dozens of journalists were secretly ferried by the Russian Ministry of Defence to Hamim air­base near the coastal city of Latakia to cover Russian air operations in Syria.
The move was part of a detailed and well-coordinated plan in which official Syrian media closely collaborated to paint a picture of high-level cooperation between Russia and Syria in what they are both calling a war on terrorism.
Media stuck to a Russian gov­ernment blackout before the cam­paign until a Russian Defence Min­istry news conference declared the strikes against militants’ targets had started. Dozens of reports, which appeared to have been pre­pared prior to the news confer­ence, were subsequently broadcast on Russian and Syrian channels.
A top official in the Syrian state media, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The official Syrian media were instructed to re­frain from producing news reports or disseminating information or images on the Russian operation.”
Distribution would only come from the political office in the Syr­ian Army, a mouthpiece for the As­sad regime, or through the state news agency SANA, the official told The Arab Weekly.
“This is what happened and continues to happen until this mo­ment,” he said. “This is why gov­ernment papers and TV channels in Syria always wait for SANA’s news releases to simply transmit whatever news is released by the Syrian army command. This is why all coverage of the Russian opera­tion is identical.”
The situation was different for Russian media. “Right from the in­itial hours of the Russian military operation in Syria, the majority of Russian TV channels and news­papers were transformed into op­eration rooms, leading campaigns that used all possible means,” said Taha Abdel Wahed, a Moscow-based Syrian journalist contacted on Skype.
Abdel Wahed said the war in Syr­ia was the “focus of talk shows on state and private Russian channels and news programmes”.
During the initial days of the strikes, the main sources of infor­mation for the news media in Rus­sia and Syria were news releases from the Russian Defence Ministry.
A close look at the content of the Russian media on the operations in Syria shows an effort to instil a feel­ing of “grandeur and might” that delivers one message: “A strong Russia will no longer stand silently on the side,” Abdel Wahed said.
The media campaign went hand-in-hand with the official political stance. Abdel Wahed noted that when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was “no such a thing called moderate oppo­sition in Syria”, “the media raced to detail and explain the compo­sition of the armed opposition in Syria to arrive at the conclusion that they’re all terrorists”.
Abdel Wahed added that when Lavrov said “Russia is willing to coordinate with the Free Syrian Army, but where is it?” the media turned its attention to answering this question. “Some have restated that this army does not exist while others described it as weak,” he said.
An official well-informed on Syr­ian government policy pointed out that an operation room for the me­dia had been set up in Hamim.
“By doing so, they joined the Russian reporters who came for the specific purpose of covering Russia’s military operations,” he said. Equipment was provided to ensure proper coverage of the air strikes.
Mohamed, a reporter from an official Syrian newspaper dis­patched to Hamim, said he recent­ly stayed for six days at the base.
“There was nothing for us to do there,” he said. “Aeroplanes take off from the airfield and carry out their missions, then the Russian Defence Ministry issues a report about the targeted areas and the result of the mission.
“Most of the Russian journalists who came to Hamim left it to go to Damascus. Some returned to Mos­cow because there was not much to do.”
“At first, the media had access to advanced equipment. The Syr­ian authorities authorised Russian journalists exclusively to use cam­eras fixed on drones, some sort of flying cameras and to film from specific heights. They shot scenes in a Hollywood style, like filming from above jet fighters firing their missiles.”
The Hollywood style was evi­dent in footage showing the launch of cruise missiles towards Syria from Russian warships in the Cas­pian Sea.
“They were like a Hollywood movie,” a Syrian Army general said. “They wanted to draw at­tention to the importance of this phase in the operations so that the United States and its allies in the war on Syria get the message.”