On a deadly mission: Journalists in Syria | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 10.03.2012
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On a deadly mission: Journalists in Syria

Syria is a dangerous place for reporters and photographers. President Bashar al-Assad's regime has had a negative impact on freedom of the press. Both foreign and local journalists risk persecution and even death.

"Someone has to go there and see what's happening" - this was the motto of US journalist Marie Colvin. She traveled to conflict areas and war zones around the world to report on the events there. She visited Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka - where she lost one eye - and the Middle East.

In Syria, her job cost her her life. In February of this year she was killed, together with French photographer Remi Ochlik and Syrian journalist Rami al-Sayed, while fleeing an unofficial media center that was shelled by the Syrian army. Two other foreign reporters were injured.

Over 10 deaths already recorded this year

Work in conflict and war zones is dangerous for journalists, both local and foreign. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 11 journalists have been killed around the world since the start of 2012. The situation in Syria is "particularly intransparent and hard to monitor," said Astrid Frohloff, television journalist and spokeswoman of the board of Reporters Without Borders in Berlin.

"We know that President Assad wants full control over reporting," added Frohloff. "The media are controlled and regulated. It was already like this before the uprisings, but it has dramatically worsened since then."

Marie Colvin

Colvin risked her life numerous times

She points out that this particularly applies to local journalists who are persecuted, detained and tortured by the regime: "Unlike western journalists, Syrian journalists who end up in jail due to the work they do don't have much opportunity to ask for international assistance."

Despite the great dangers, many reporters from around the globe still attempt to travel to Syria to report on the protests against President Assad, says Stephanie Brancaforte from Avaaz, a global web movement that aims to empower people to take action on pressing issues.

For a year now, Avaaz has been supporting the protesters in Syria and helps smuggle medicine, humanitarian aid goods, satellite telephones, modems and computers into the country. And it transports foreign journalists from Lebanon to Syria.

"We believe that it's important for foreign journalists to see with their own eyes what goes on there and what atrocities the regime perpetrates," said Brancaforte, pointing out that dozens of reporters have asked Avaaz to smuggle them into the country.

"It is unbelievably dangerous, and these journalists are very brave," she added, emphasizing that the organization assessed the willing reporters' requests carefully before helping them enter the war zone, taking into account their level of experience.

Taking the risk

War in Homs

Homs is extremely dangerous for reporters

German journalist Florian T. (not his real name) satisfies Avaaz's criteria, but is traveling around Syria without any outside support. Over the last 12 years, he has gained a lot of experience in reporting from war zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. He has already been to Syria seven times, which includes five visits to the war-torn city of Homs since the start of the revolution. Risking his life, he did his research there with the help of local activists.

The biggest danger is posed by the snipers that entrench themselves on the roofs and observe street intersections.

"You cannot run when you're crossing a six-lane road," said Florian. "Those are terrifying seconds, when you're in the sniper's line of vision."

The best way to deal with such situations is to not attract attention and move away from the area as quickly as possible.

But this can be difficult when one is relying on the help of activists. You are essentially "embedded," like the journalists who covered Iraq and accompanied patrols by the US army.

It's just that in Syria you are with the local rebels, who want to show the journalists how they live, and point out the dangers facing the civilian population. Each journalist needs to decide for themselves if the danger is worth the risk.

Author: Bettina Marx / ew
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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