The Establishment of an Official Narrative About Syria in 2011

It has been established that the UK and allied governments have been engaged in a strategic communications campaign about the war in Syria (Hayward 2021a). This chapter reviews evidence that shows the information reaching Western publics already in the first months of unrest in Syria was consistent with the key narrative promoted in support of that campaign’s overarching goals. In doing so it demonstrates that there was some quite systematic selectivity in the presentation of evidence. Indeed the mainstream English language news coverage – taking Al Jazeera and The Guardian as case studies of it – so determinedly accredits a particular version of events that it can be called the ‘official narrative’. Observing this, of course, does not mean that the selected information is necessarily untrue – indeed, strategic communications are most effective when they incorporate truth and avoid falsehood as much as possible, consistent with maintaining the narrative. So the aim of this chapter is only to establish the one-sidedness of the official narrative. It will be in the next chapter (Hayward 2021c) that evidence occluded in the Western media accounts will be more fully considered. 

In order to discern where the ‘official narrative’ starts to involve systematic selectivity it is helpful at the outset to note a few relatively uncontentious key points about the situation prior to 2011, when there had not been any particular ideological controversy featured in the press about the nature of political, economic and cultural conditions in Syria.

The situation in Syria going into 2011

Bashar al Assad had come to power in 2000, and during his first decade as president of Syria, there had been hopes – at home and abroad – that he would introduce serious reforms to the oppressive state apparatus that his father had introduced to maintain the country’s internal security – what Phillips 2016 refers to as its coup-proofing – and that he would also facilitate significant improvements in the country’s hard-pressed economy. Achieving neither objective would be easy, however, even for a more experienced leader, and the inherent difficulties were in no way lessened by external pressures. So it had been that the Syrian government was widely deemed to have performed disappointingly on both scores. On the human rights side, Human Rights Watch (2010) wrote of 2000-2010 as a ‘wasted decade’: during the ten years Bashar Al-Assad had been president, the human rights situation seemed to Western observers not to have improved as markedly as they had hoped. The consistent tenor of reports was disappointment: advances achieved in some areas had to be set against continued problems in others. If we go back to human rights reports on Syria for the year 2010, before the conflict began, we find Amnesty International recorded a number of cases of wrongful detention and brutality. The government’s ‘robust’ approach to groups seeking an end to the secular state of Syria was widely understood to need monitoring for reported excesses. Regarding the economy, life may have been good for many in vibrant cities, but it was far from idyllic for everyone. Amongst rural populations, in particular, there was real cause for frustration at the government’s priorities and policies. An agricultural economy hobbled by the poorly managed effects of severe drought had left the worst off marginalized. Suzanne Saleeby (2012) offered this assessment of how mismanagement had led to an ‘unraveling’ of the implicit social contract:

‘As a result of four years of severe drought, farmers and herders have seen their livelihoods destroyed and their lifestyles transformed, becoming disillusioned with government promises of plentitude in rural areas. In the disjuncture between paternalistic promises of resource redistribution favoring Syria’s peasantry and corporatist pacts binding regime interests to corrupt private endeavors, one may begin to detect the seeds of Syrian political unrest.’  (Suzanne Saleeby 2012)

By 2011, large swathes of the Syrian population – for many and locally varying reasons – had become frustrated and angry enough to sympathise with the protests that started in earnest in March.

Nevertheless, Robin Yassin-Kassab, a writer who was to become closely associated with calls for regime change, wrote at the time of the ‘deep unease that many Syrians today feel about the protests’ (Yassin-Kassab 2011b). He quoted a friend from Deraa, the town whose protests are deemed to have sparked the wider Syrian uprising, saying ‘that few want revolution and many fear disorder and chaos. … Everyone wants change, but they want orderly change.’ (Yassin-Kassab 2011a)The respected scholar Raymond Hinnebusch noted that the opposition lacked leadership or organized parties, and he found it ‘uncertain whether a viable opposition exists. Aside from their shared belief that the regime is the source of all problems, the interests of well-off external exiles and the deprived foot soldiers of the rebellion hardly seem congruent.’ Hinnebusch accordingly made the very telling observation:

‘Any new government in Damascus will therefore be confronted with the same policy dilemmas and limited options that faced Asad’s, and will struggle to find better or even different answers to Syria’s intractable problems.’ (Hinnebusch 2012: 113)

Yet, at the time, the attention of publics in the West was brought to focus almost exclusively on the oppressive nature of the Syrian state apparatus. Before that time, writers on Syria had been aware of this, and in particular of the interlocking intelligence agencies forming the Mukhabarat and the more informal enforcers known as Shabiha. But the oppressive aspects of the Syrian state were not presented as a greater cause for concern than those of other states in the region.

So it does not follow from a dispassionate assessment of the situation that Assad should be portrayed as a uniquely bad leader in the region or that his ouster would necessarily be the best route to improving the overall situation in Syria. That portrayal does, however, accord with the objectives of those who, for geopolitical reasons, favoured regime change in Syria. The rest of this chapter reviews evidence manifest in the coverage by two key news outlets of news and analysis being led by a pre-conceived agenda rather than attentiveness to actual developments on the ground in Syria.

Al Jazeera’s early coverage of the conflict in Syria

Al Jazeera – as the primary international broadcaster of news from Syria – was very influential in initially framing and reporting events that were unfolding in Syria from March 2011 onwards. They framed the situation as one of a brutal regime escalating violence against the protesters of a peaceful opposition. Al Jazeera’s coverage was steadfast in conveying the message that the uniquely bad Assad regime should, and imminently would, be replaced under the pressure of the revolutionary will of Syrian people.

However, two things this coverage omitted to mention were that the aspiration of the democratic protestors was aimed at peaceful political reform rather than necessarily regime change, and that from the outset the most effective ‘revolutionary’ element was neither peaceful in method nor democratic in intent. These omissions, and particularly the second, were so stark that a number of Al Jazeera Arabic’s most respected journalists were in due course to speak out about them and leave the station as a direct result. (An important background point about Al Jazeera is that although it has employed some top rate journalists, it is owned by the Emir of Qatar, and Qatar was among the chief funders of the armed opposition in Syria.)

As a stark illustration of one-sidedness, Al Jazeera Arabic is said to have suppressed reports on—and footage showing—how armed Islamist elements, which had infiltrated Syria via Jordan, were already active at the first demonstrations in Da’ara in March 2011, thereby concealing the extent to which the character of those demonstrations was sectarian and anti-democratic (see Hayward 2021c). Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem recounts that he had filmed armed Syrian revolutionaries on the border with Lebanon but this was not broadcast because ‘that did not fit the desired story of a peaceful uprising’, and he writes in a leaked email: ‘My superiors told me, forget what you saw!” As reported in Al Akbar (2012-03-08), Al Jazeera ‘refused to show photos he had taken of armed fighters clashing with the Syrian Army in Wadi Khaled. Instead [Al Jazeera] lambasted him as a shabeeh (implying a regime loyalist).’ According to Aktham Suliman (2012), those in the editorial office who attempted to protest about one-sided coverage met with accusations of being ‘supporters of the Syrian regime’. Yet these journalists were by no means supporters of, much less apologists for, Assad. Sultan al Qassemi, speaking in January 2013, for instance, was ‘personally sympathetic to anyone trying to bring down this evil regime, but that is not the job of a channel that I’m supposed to turn to for neutral news.’

Corroborating accusations of partiality at Al Jazeera came from numerous journalists. Anchorwoman Rula Ibrahim spoke of how Syrian activists invited onto Al Jazeera had used terms of sectarian incitement on air, and she expressed concerns that the uprising would ‘lead to a civil war’ (Kanaan 2012). Aktham Suliman, a Syrian who had been the director of the Berlin bureau from 2002 until 2012, declared himself personally a supporter of the Syrian opposition, but he could not accept the one-sidedness of Al Jazeera’s Syria coverage, and since his protests were to no avail, he resigned, saying: ‘Al Jazeera was committed to the truth. Now the truth is being twisted. It is all about politics, not about journalism. For the reporters it is time to leave.’ (Suliman 2016) Indeed, departures included, as well as those already mentioned, the director of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Beirut Ghassan Ben Jeddo; two journalists at Al Jazeera’s website; and news director Hassan Shawky, who had worked for some 15 years at the channel and was asked to leave Qatar within 48 hours (Axis of Logic 2013).

A Syrian news editor fired from Al Jazeera complained of ‘Al Jazeera’s transformation into a tool of incitement and support for terrorist acts in my country.’ (Axis of Logic 2013). He told of ‘peer pressure from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and they were many of them there’ which was regular and sometimes intense (Axis of Logic 2013). They ‘always spoke of the desire to change the government of Syria by substituting themselves for it.’ Right from the first month of the uprising, he relates, they would claim that ‘the majority is with the Muslim brotherhood and governance is within our grasp’. Behind the fake stories that he alleges kept coming, he believed there was ‘a well-drawn plan’. ‘When it comes to the eye witnesses who used to describe things as if they were inside Syria and close to the events, their phone numbers were from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Kingdom and other countries.’

When the channel’s head of news, Ibrahim Hilal, was asked where he stood on all this, his reply was: “stuck between a rock and a hard place: the agenda and professionalism…” (Kanaan 2012).

The Guardian’s coverage

In the first six months of unrest in Syria, The Guardian’s coverage told of an increasingly violent crackdown by the Syrian government. The focus was almost exclusively on the response itself, which was condemned as grossly disproportionate, with no Guardian journalist making any very serious attempt to convey what was happening on the ground to prompt it. The emphasis was on conveying the genuine and justified aspirations of those Syrians who were hopeful for greater democracy, policy reforms, and peaceful political change; and in the very early days of the uprising, the Guardian also included actual descriptions of peaceful protests. At that time, Maher Arar (2011) commented that ‘the Syrian youth who are leading this nonviolent reform movement have made it clear that it is purely secular in nature and they will not allow it to be hijacked by any opportunist ethnic group or opposition party.’ But it was optimistic to suppose it was in this demographic’s gift to determine what others would do, and it is noticeable that specific descriptions of the nature of the protests or the demographics involved became very sketchy very quickly in the Guardian’s coverage. Very soon the focus was so much on the government’s repression that it is hard for the reader to picture exactly what the protesters were doing to ‘intensify’ the protest. By the end of July we were hearing the situation had deteriorated to the point that tanks were being deployed to certain towns, and yet no clear indication was given of what had been going on to elicit this sort of response. In short, we were just not being told what it was the government was cracking down on.

To say this is by no means to make light of the oppressiveness of the treatment of democratic protestors: it is only to point out that the detention and mistreatment of peaceful political critics, cruel and unjustifiable as it is, does not require and is not assisted by the use of heavy weaponry on the streets.

Evidently, whereas Al Jazeera was involved in actively suppressing reports of the opposition’s use of force, these were not even generated by anyone reporting for The Guardian. Very occasionally, a fleeting mention would be made of reports from the government’s side that they were dealing with ‘armed gangs’, but these would invariably be presented with scepticism and passed over without inquiry. On one occasion, a Guardian journalist reports that Syria’s ‘State TV aired staged accounts of “armed terrorists” admitting receiving cash from foreigners and showing caches of weapons and money in mosques.’ The journalist does not indicate how she had ascertained that these were staged. The degree of scepticism here is inverse in proportion to that applied to any allegations made by unidentified opposition ‘activists’ that are conveyed as presumptively reliable testimony without any form of independent evidence or corroboration. In that same article, the journalist dismisses stories of significant support for Assad in Syria on the grounds that they are ‘contradicted by satellite channels such as al-Jazeera’.

The journalist referred to in the previous paragraph, ‘Nour Ali’, is just one of three of the Guardian’s journalists covering Syria who were writing under a pseudonym. A surprisingly large amount of the paper’s early coverage was authored by the other two. While the use of a pseudonym might have been justified by safety concerns, it nevertheless coincided with some especially problematic reporting. Particularly egregious was the output of one ‘Katherine Marsh’ who was a contributor to at least eleven of the Guardian’s reports on Syria in that formative period between March and May. One was entitled ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus becomes a heroine of the Syrian revolt’. This introduced to the public Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, and Marsh gave a wealth of factual information about this heroic blogger said to be writing from the same town as Marsh herself, Damascus. As came to light by June, however, ‘Amina’ was in fact a fictional character generated from an IP address accessed by an American couple based in Scotland. But if having one negligent and gullible journalist might be regarded as a misfortune, having two would look like carelessness – and the only reason for not accusing the Guardian of carelessness is that it actually had four, which looks more like a pattern. Two who wrote purportedly factual articles about Gay Girl were Esther Addley (real name) and ‘Nidaa Hassan’ (pseudonym), while Nesrine Malik wrote sceptically about claims Amina was a hoax. We might also note that a fifth Guardian contributor – Brian Whitaker – wrote several pieces about Amina but published them in a different outlet. [Do any readers have copies of any of Whitaker’s deleted articles?]

Worse than such negligence, though, is that the pseudonymous ‘Marsh’ had produced much more consequential disinformation during her short but historically formative time at The Guardian. Very near the beginning of unrest in Syria, on 12 April, she had posted a sensational and inflammatory story alleging ‘Syrian soldiers shot for refusing to fire on protesters’. This story – which claimed that Syrian army officers were killing their own men – exercised a lot of influence on public opinion, being considerably amplified also on social media. Yet inquiry by the Syria scholar Joshua Landis immediately revealed it to be false. In fact, whether anything ‘Katherine Marsh’ wrote was reliable, and even whether this unidentifiable journalist was ever really in Syria, we may never know for sure. Certainly, her level of epistemic diligence was consistently low. It is also noteworthy that, from the outset, and although said to be based in Damascus, she was sourcing information about events on the ground from activists exiled in US or Switzerland or from the Amnesty International office in New York.

It is only when Marsh’s contribution included as co-author Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor at the time, that we find at least some straight reporting of Syrian state claims as well as those of the opposition – for instance, in this article (Katherine Marsh and Ian Black 24 April 2011) which reports that ‘nine members of the security forces … killed, seven in clashes with “armed gangs” in Nawa.’ It was only from Black that readers could learn, in April, of ‘the claim by the government that it is facing an “armed insurrection” in Homs and Baniyas.’ Indeed, Black added, ‘the charge that the rebels are Salafists – fundamentalist Sunnis often equated with al-Qaida – who are bent on fomenting sectarian strife is even more worrying.’

In fact, throughout the formative months of Guardian coverage, the closest it came to be being balanced or impartial was when Ian Black was contributing – albeit often as co-author – as then some journalistic scruple was in evidence. He provides kinds of information not otherwise heard – for instance, that a crucial factor in any possible opposition success would be generals (rather than just a handful of junior officers) defecting from the regular army. For he notes that the regular army is ‘the one part of the Syrian state relatively unsullied by the killings’ whereas the notoriously brutal ‘elite fourth division, effectively commanded by Maher [Assad’s brother], is almost a separate entity’. Black also lets it be known that as well as state brutality there were ‘sectarian clashes’.

But a greater part of the reporting in the early months came from two anonymous journalists contributing under pseudonyms, and we know that the general standards of epistemic diligence in the Guardian’s coverage of Syria were poor simply from the extended Gay Girl fiasco. But a study of the entirety of articles written by the other journalists in the first six months of unrest reveals a serious deficit of impartiality and also questions about accuracy.

A lack of impartiality is noticeable in the sheer quantity of claims made from a perspective opposed to the government compared to any conveying the government’s point of view. It is exacerbated by an imbalance in the degree of diligence applied: whereas government assertions are routinely subjected to high degrees of scepticism, opposition claims are generally repeated without any conspicuous concern about their accuracy or good faith. This is illustrated when Esther Addley, one of the contributors of the Gay Girl story, reports on interviews given by Reem Haddad, director of Syria’s state TV network, to the BBC and to Al Jazeera. In both interviews, the viewer witnesses how Haddad’s attempts to talk about the problem of armed gangs and Syrian army deaths are spoken over by her interviewer, and in the Al Jazeera case the interviewer insists that she account instead for an estimated ‘500 civilians thought to have been shot dead by security forces in street protests’. Haddad’s response is to ask “How do you know that 500 people have been shot dead, where is your information coming from?” The interviewer declines to answer, even though it is germane to his reference to what is ‘thought’ to have happened. Addley, however, assures Guardian readers that it was a figure compiled by human rights organisations in Syria and London, giving no more detail than that, and appearing to think this is perfectly sufficient epistemic diligence even though in the BBC interview Haddad had unsuccessfully raised the specific question about how those organisations arrived at their claims.

More generally, like Al Jazeera, Guardian journalists often give the impression of neither wanting, nor believing they needed, to provide evidence to support their strong claims against the Syrian government. On the other hand, extreme scepticism was applied to any information conveyed by the Syrian government. For instance, when the pseudonymous Nour Ali refers to a more favourable assessment of the Syrian government than is found in Guardian articles, she asserts that merely ‘a small minority of Syrians believe this narrative’, offering no evidence for this estimate and simply asserting that the favourable narrative is ‘contradicted by satellite channels such as al-Jazeera’. And so it is that the news bubble created by Al Jazeera and further inflated by The Guardian comes to be presented as a reality that no investigation is required to test.

Given that rigorous investigation is understandably difficult in a situation of conflict where international journalists are not able to report from the ground, one might expect honest and professional reporters to be suitably cautious not to take sides, either epistemically or morally, when the evidence is not fully clear. Yet something that has been quite generally noticeable in Western coverage throughout the conflict has been a concerted focus on particular events or images that are taken to symbolise the essence of it.

An early and highly influential case was the death of 13 year-old Hamza al-Khatib. The Guardian was in line with the rest of the Western press in reporting ‘Teenage victim becomes a symbol for Syria’s revolution’ (Shiv Malik, Ian Black and Nidaa Hassan (31 May 2011) . Yet the circumstances of Hamza’s death are not fully clear. The SANA report at the time – which the Guardian caricatures by saying ‘state TV says injuries were faked by conspirators’ – in fact points to an alternative version of events; and reasons for caution about simply accepting the West’s version have been set out by citizen investigators here, here, and in greatest detail here. But in the West the symbolism was evidently more important than closer investigation of facts, and the message being symbolised was that a government capable of such cruel acts cannot claim legitimacy and must go.

It is noteworthy that while Black, and in 2012 the seasoned professional Jonathan Steele, saw the prospects of Assad’s ouster as rather remote, the preponderance of commentators at the Guardian, as elsewhere in the Western press, shared a conviction that his overthrow was imminent. Some were especially hawkish on the question. Already in just the second week of protests, Brian Whitaker was saying that the needed change in Syria ‘will take more than reform. It will take a revolution.’ He even refers to the possibility of civil war. By May, Carne Ross is proposing ‘Let’s Call Russia’s Bluff on Syria’, arguing that ‘[s]tanding up for dictators doesn’t seem so clever, especially if the democrats eventually win.’ Three weeks later Carne Ross returns to his theme, casting the aspirations of Syrian democrats as a matter of ‘What we can do to bring down dictators’, with readers being encouraged to think how outsiders can help in the fight against the Syrian government. Meanwhile, Martin Chulov was steadily talking up the prospects of an opposition victory over Assad in military terms. In June, Martin Chulov (in Antakya), Matthew Weaver, James Meikle write that ‘a mass defection of troops to rebels has also been credibly reported’, although specific corroboration is not referred to.

By the end of July and into August it is Ramadam: protests intensify and reports of the government response – including tanks in Hama – come through. Reasons for the necessity of tanks, however, are not mentioned, and the opposition are still being referred to as ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’. Thus on reflection one can notice quite a disconnect between the idea, in which early hopes had been placed, of a young democratic movement and the actual reports on the ground of increasingly intense fighting, which cannot conceivably have involved just one side.

A somewhat more balanced aspect of the Guardian’s output was the political analyses occasionally provided by guest contributors. Among these one could sometimes find a more dispassionate assessment of the situation Assad faced and his options for dealing with it, as well as critical examination of what he was doing. Assad’s internal problem of limited room for manoeuvre set by his family, the old guard and cronies was highlighted in James Denselow ‘Bashar al-Assad: the dictator who cannot dictate’. The situation was well understood by key foreign politicians, Denselow relates, none of whom portray him as evil. This analysis depicts a problematic regime, rather than Assad as being personally the problem. Insofar as foreign politicians are talking of a problem, it is from the perspective that Julian Borger helpfully sets out as he looks at the situation from the perspective of the UK’s aspirations for Syria policy. As recently as January 2011, he notes, this had been discussed with Assad by UK foreign secretary William Hague who expressed the hope that ‘Assad would one day relax his autocratic regime, distance himself from Iran, make peace with Israel – and along the way open Syria’s sclerotic markets to British business’. Admittedly this hope had already ‘waned over the years but never quite died until the bloody events of the past few days.’ The nature of the problem within Syria itself was captured by Adam Coutts:

‘Syria’s uprising could have been avoided through reform’, he argues, but ‘with hollow promises of reform, social policy sclerosis and increasing economic inequality, the Syrian people lost patience. … 11 years since Assad came to power, not a great deal has improved for the average Syrian. This is because economic growth was concentrated in the hands of a chosen few with regime connections and was not accompanied by the development of adequate social protection measures for the masses left behind.’

This overall bleak socio-economic situation, however, was clearly not uppermost in the mind of George Monbiot when he produced his first article on Syria. For his focus was on the case for economic sanctions – a measure that any informed and intelligent journalist like himself would know could only mean harm rather than good for the economically struggling sections of the Syrian population. In fact Monbiot’s part in the Guardian’s portrayal of Syria merits particular mention because of how surprisingly significant and active he was later to become in bolstering the official narrative, even as it mutated over the years until coming to centre on the White Helmets and chemical attack allegations. (For a fuller discussion of Monbiot’s writings on Syria see Hayward (2018).)

When Monbiot’s first Guardian article on Syria appeared in September 2011, it came on the heels of several articles in the Guardian during August 2011 bearing titles like ‘Bashar Al-Assad’s Fall Is Inevitable’ and ‘the end of Assad is near’. The Guardian was by then evidently supportive of intensifying efforts to hasten ‘the inevitable’. Monbiot, however, was not an overt advocate of military intervention, and even in proposing to write an article discussing the case for economic sanctions, he acknowledged that ‘[t]o argue in favour is to risk promoting wider human suffering’. In fact, he took the unusual step of appealing to his readers to send in their views ahead of his writing the piece. 

Between them, readers’ comments in response to Monbiot’s invitation offered a wealth of valuable thoughts that were not otherwise to be found on pages of the Guardian. For instance: ‘surely the first issue is “what is to be achieved?” Without knowing what you want, it is hard to tell whether sanctions would achieve it.’ Given the risk that ‘Syria will collapse into a violent sectarian civil-war’, Monbiot is cautioned, ‘before proposing a solution surely one should outline what one wishes to prevent first?’ Furthermore, someone suggests, ‘we don’t have a clear idea of who is involved in the protests.’ (And my own review of the Guardian’s output showed that it had provided none.) Another notes that ‘there are no great calls for sanctions or outside interference from the protestors’, and more emphatic is the reader who claims the Syrian people have ‘made it abundantly clear that they do not want the west’s help or involvement as they consider it an internal matter.’ In any case, a crucial question about objectives ‘is whether or not the democratic forces inside the country are in a position to replace the existing regime and whether or not those forces are asking for sanctions to be imposed.’ Readers also caution about taking a one-sided view: ‘I’m no fan of Assad, but as with Libya, the reporting in the west about the violence in Syria has been blatantly lopsided. There have been many brutal killings by the anti-government forces as well.’ Not least, there is the question why it is even Syria we are so concerned about: ‘why not start with the countries we aid the most? … Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are as bad, if not worse, and we actively aid them. Which should be our first concern?’

In short, already in 2011, members of the public were setting out concerns that have continued to animate critics of the West’s approach to Syria to this day. Yet – and here it was entirely in line with the whole of the Guardian’s coverage – Monbiot’s article disregarded them. It presented as a simple fact the claim that the country was in the grip of a ‘murderous regime’, because, Monbiot states, it ‘has killed some 2,600 Syrian people since March.’ In fact, the source he cites for this claim alleges that 88 people had died in detention in Syria since March, while reporting also a UN estimate of a total of 2,200 deaths on all sides in the widespread violence at large. So the cited article’s content does not actually support Monbiot’s gloss of it which attributes all the killings to the government’s side. Reports of 88 deaths in custody are certainly not something to make light of, but a responsible journalist would be careful to avoid conflating that specific concern with a quite distinct concern about the far greater numbers dying on all sides at a time of armed insurgency in civilian areas. Perhaps Monbiot feels justified in aggregating the various numbers cited because his point is that all the deaths are in some way the fault of ‘Assad’s murderous regime’. This is certainly the essence of what one would take from The Guardian’s coverage of the first six months of unrest in Syria. But just as was noted with regard to the Al Jazeera coverage, this message corresponds rather more surely to the geopolitical interests of Syria’s external foes than to the fruits of diligent journalism.

To verify this comparison, however, we need to consider how the fruits of diligent journalism do differ from the narrative purveyed by Al Jazeera and The Guardian. Hence, the next chapter presents some of the work of independent journalists who were revealing quite a different side of the story of what was happening in Syria in 2011.