But Ahmed Jalal, 35, editor of the local magazine Al-Manatarah, does not agree. He thinks that the diminished support is due to concern for the safety of their employees, and Syrians working with them, after the country became so dangerous for journalists.
As for the burden of responsibility laid on the journalists inside Syria, Jalal said: “In the early stages of the revolution we did not have a great responsibility to convey the truth to the international community because the door was open to journalists from all over the world, and many of them came in and reported the truth to their communities. But after a year or two of the revolution everything changed because Bashar al-Assad succeeded in getting his propaganda message across to the West that he was fighting terrorists and that the alternative to him was chaos and terrorism.”
Jalal believes that IS’s pursuit of journalists, and execution of some of them, forced Western agencies to withdraw their correspondents, and then the opposition factions’ media made repeated mistakes until the world began to view the Syrian conflict as a “sectarian war between the Alawites and the Shi’a on the one hand and the Sunnis on the other, or as a fundamentalist Islamic revolution that crossed borders, and not a people’s revolution”.
Jalal sighed, took a drag on his cigarette, and continued: “Our responsibility has become great, it is now up to us to convince the international community that we are reporting the truth, which can be expressed as the aspirations for freedom and justice of a people that a criminal regime is killing – and this is what compels us to risk our lives.”
Working under a pseudonym and wearing bullet-proof jackets is all journalists inside Syria can do to minimise the risks, according to Jalal, because nobody recognises the immunity of journalists, and nobody respects the international laws and conventions governing their work. He said: “We are in a jungle … all we can do is persevere, coping with the fear and the grief. However much we try to minimise the risks; hardly a week goes by without our losing a friend or colleague, who has died covering some battle or other, or in the bombing of civilians by government forces or their allies, or in an execution by Da’esh [IS].”
The editor said: “Hardly a day goes by without our seeing the dead body of a child torn apart by Bashar al-Assad’s aircraft.” In the opposition-held areas, ordinary citizens do not look upon journalists favourably.
Jalal added: “Every time we go to take a photograph we encounter people who refuse and say ‘You media people take photos and rake in the money and we get bombed by Bashar al-Assad’s planes because of you taking pictures.’”
Many journalists inside Syria want their output to reach the international community. “Unfortunately, it rarely gets through because most of the journalists in these areas do not possess English or the skills to communicate with the outside world, so when talking to the world they rely on compassion rather than understanding,” said Jalal.
Jalal wishes the armed opposition factions would invite Western media organisations into their areas and provide them with protection. And if that is impossible, then he asks “powerful news agencies like Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press, and powerful networks like the BBC and CNN” to put trust in local journalists or citizen journalists in these areas.
Ahmed said: “We have now got good journalists inside the opposition-held areas who have received training from Western institutions such as the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Reporters Without Borders and the CFI [run by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs], and we now have training centres in these areas; all that we lack is the trust of the powerful Western agencies and the networks in us.”