Syria panels stress need for ethical, collaborative reporting

Journalists and human rights advocates spoke about the media's role in the Syrian conflict at an all-day event on Thursday.

Some stopped to reflect on each scene’s significance. Others walked right by. But before even entering the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications on Thursday, attendees of "Running for Cover: Politics, Justice & Media in the Syrian Conflict" walked past a wall of images - images of the people in Syria, living with this conflict every day.

Photo: Tony Curtis
Photojournalist Reza speaks during a panel which was part of the "Running for Cover in the Syrian Conflict" symposium.

The wall reflected the central theme of the event: how is the media shaping the Syrian conflict, and why is this important to understand?

The topic was discussed during six panels at the all-day event. The first, "The Geopolitical Situation in Syria," set the stage for the morning by explaining what exactly is happening in the conflict. The panels that followed—"Accountability for Atrocity," "The Media’s Role," "Social Media in Reporting War" and "Next Steps"—explored some of the difficulties facing lawyers and media professionals face as they report on Syria.

Throughout each panel discussion, audience members were invited onto the stage to fill an empty seat and ask questions, and one topic that was ever present was the media’s accountability in covering the conflict.

Reza, an award-winning photojournalist for National Geographic, said the corporatization of media plays a role in unethical journalistic behaviors, citing that 75 percent of the media is owned by three companies.

“If you take any newspaper here, any magazine here, any TV station here, they are all related to some [corporation],” Reza said. “How can you accept that?”

During the “Social Media in Reporting War” panel, Manar Shabouk, an Arabic lecturer at Syracuse University who is from Aleppo, shared her perspective as a Syrian affected by the conflict, and gave advice to journalists who report on Syrians and Syrian refugees.

“Be very careful about not treating the refugee as a subject,” Shabouk said. “Syrians have become, because of the war, a foreign element. We have to be careful.”

Hub Brown, Newhouse's associate dean for research, creativity, international initiatives and diversity, moderated “The Media’s Role” panel. He said Shabouk’s comments were exactly what he wanted to address.

“That’s the thing that we have to remember: While we sit here in comfort, a lot of stuff is happening and they are people,” Brown said. “How would we feel if the one thing we were reduced to was that we were running from bombs?”

Shabouk said the solution to issues of misrepresentation in the media is to bring people together to discuss the conflict and the perspectives of the Syrian people. In order for this to happen, Shabouk said collaboration is needed.

“Syrians, we don’t really have the tools to do media work,” said Shabouk. “We lived in dictatorship. So how can we bring the efforts [of journalists and Syrians] together? Because this will be powerful.”

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