After Four Years, Australian Journos still don’t get Syria

Alex Ray – 08.09.2015

Thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald this week for providing another example of poorly researched, illogical and one-sided reporting on Syria.

Former technology reporter and public servant (communications) Lucy Battersby wrote a piece implying that it was the Syrian Government’s efforts to defend itself by bombing ISIS that was the cause of radicalisation.

Showing a complete lack of understanding of the history of the region and complexity of the conflict, Battersby bases her entire article on an International Crisis Group (ICG) report that is openly pushing for further western intervention in Syria.

Battersby gets off to a bad start with: “Opposition elements cannot build effective governance amid the death and destruction caused by aerial bombardment.

This ignores the reality that Syrian opposition elements cannot build effective governance anywhere, even in exile in London and Turkey.  Throughout the conflict their primary aim has been the removal of the secular Syrian government rather than building effective governance.

Here is a sample of the Syrian ‘opposition’ approach to vital infrastructure at one of Aleppo’s largest hospitals:

She continues with the nonsensical claim paraphrased from the report that: …“Stopping Assad’s air strikes in southern Syria would do more to bring peace to the area than targeting terrorists…”

It is beggars belief how giving free rein to the wave of foreign and local jihadist trying to topple the government and fragment the Syrian state would “do more to bring peace”. Unless she means the sort of peace that Libya now endures.

Battersby stumbles on: “The [Syrian civil] war fuels radicalisation, generating a boom in extremism and sectarian polarisation with capacity to destabilise the surrounding region far beyond Syria’s borders.”

This contrasts with the weight of specialist opinion that rather than the Syrian war being the fuel for radicalisation, the primary responsibility for “radicalisation, extremism and sectarian polarisation” lies with the Arab Gulf states and Turkey as primary backers of the jihadist opposition in Syria.

As well as financing and arming sectarian extremists, the Arab Gulf monarchies are responsible for the spread of radical Islam globally by exporting their strict and puritanical interpretations of Islam throughout sponsored mosques, preachers and religious materials.

The Herald story is based on the illogical assumption that the Syrian Government is solely responsible for the conflict, the jihadist radicals it is fighting and the displacement of every Syrian now fleeing the country.

While some of the blame for the fundamental errors in Battersby’s report can be pinned on the sole ICG source she uses, she shows an unbending intent to demonise the ‘loyalist’ side of the conflict. To this end she provides a dubious statistic attributed to Australian National University Professor and former Australian Ambassador Bob Bowker.

“The Assad regime was responsible for ten times more civilian deaths than jihadist groups, he [Bowker] added.”

 Bowker ‘s assertion is questionable given the results of detailed examinations of the Syrian death toll. See for example this 2013 breakdown of figures. Bowker’s claim echoes that of John Kerry who tried to blame all 70,000 deaths in Syria on Assad personally in 2013.

Even the opposition-sympathetic Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR-based in London) admitted that a whopping 44% of the death toll submitted to the United Nations was made up of Syrian Government military and security forces.

A more recent assessment of SOHR figures also indicates that the proportion of civilian casualties is falling and the number of foreigners among rebel casualties has risen to almost 60%. Reporters who visit Syria, such as Robert Fisk, also conclude the percentage of Syrian Government forces amongst the dead is considerable.

Such a poorly presented report is symptomatic of the Herald’s regular reporting on the Middle East. Journalists with little understanding of the region and pre-determined ideological bents report from distant cities mostly relying on sources that confirm their views.

The Herald is not alone in making mistakes though. The picture below featured in a 2013 New York Times report with the caption “Free Syrian Army fighters carry a fellow fighter who was wounded near Aleppo on Friday.”

A closer look at the fighter on the far left reveals he is clearly wearing a Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda) emblazoned vest.

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