By Ali Safar
Since the end of the workshop on the reform of Syrian media, held in Istanbul last moth, and to date, criticisms thereof keep coming in. The fact that most of those who attacked the workshop, did so whil it was still in first session, without even knowing its outcome notwithstanding; that criticism continued well after the workshop which involved a number of Syrian media professionals and experts. Their recommendations (if implemented) would have taken the Syrian opposition media where it currently stands to a higher, more professional level, and would have informed in better expressing of the objectives of the Syrian revolution.
A quick review of the critics can help divide them into two categories: The first comprises activist reporters, used to attack the coalition because of its perceivied failure to support them, and who consider their exclusion from the workshop as another episode of marginalization they feel they have been subjected to, as well as a lack of attention to them and their suffering. The other represents those in charge of "alternative media" newspapers who had already sent specific demands of the coalition, which (according to their jointly published statement in the five allied newspapers) were simply folded and settled in the bottom of coalition office drawers without discussion. They consider this exclusion from partiticapting in the workshop as deepening the deliberate effort by the Coalition to ignore them. They also attacked "dissident journalists" who participated in the workshop simply for having participated.
Any observer of the situation that resulted from the workshop will immediately notice that no one paid any attention to its recommendations, and that no one has deigned to discuss or even look at them. They will also be able to see that most reactions have focused on the issue of attending the workshop, and on the characterization participants as "experts," and the irony heaped onto this moniker. It is to be noted that none of those who attended proposed this title, which was published by the Coalition's Information Office without the prior knowledge or consent of participants.
Interpreting this issue, any media person will easily identify the motives that lie behind much of the critical feedback. The Coalition's delinquency in support of these media has bequeathed a rejection of all its actions. At the same time, these media having operated alone, and having to secure their support from alternative sources they had to muster on their own, may cause them to see themselves as standing alone on the scene, and holders of a unique sense of injustice done to them. They will be unable to see anything through any other lens.
Some of these media often claimed not to have been funded by the coalition; yet the factual record indicates otherwise. The coalition's failure to clearly and transparently disclose support, has resulted in it constantly being accused of negligence; while at the same time, the absence of any clear standards for support, will continue to shroud the subject in suspicion and accusations of basing it on nepotism and favoritism.
All of the above, and perhaps all that has been traded after the workshop cannot and should not be ignored; a large proportion of it might evben be true. But instead of crying foul, would it not be more productive to take a moment to listen to what others were saying? Are all the efforts exerted by others for three days to come up with reform recommendations that can be discussed in order to enrich them, worthless? They have, after all, all been arrived at to help bring about a new Syrian media.
The head of one revolutionary media organization heard that the theme of the workshop was to propose a Charter of Honor for the Syrian media; and immediately declared that his organization would not sign onto code of conduct it did not participate in the drafting! following the same logic, other journalists announced similar reactions; despite the fact that the workshop did not promulgate any such Charter, yet rather recommended that such needed to be proposed.
No one will certainly blame anyone for their rapid and hasty reactions to a project that was launched, and whose details did not reach everyone. Everyone will be blamed, however, if they fail to address the reality of the alternative media, and if they fail to support the reform project which was approved in the recommendations; which firstly starts with establishing a national body to regulate the media and hold the initiative in the proposed reform process, and not ending with the project of establishming professional media outlets (a television, radio, and a daily newspaper). Added, of course, to extending support to activists and journalists on the ground, and secure ways to protect them from the exploitation of the media in which they currently invest their efforts, without any guarantees, insurances, or the protection.
The personification that permeated all reactions to the workshop, were certainly not at the level of what the very same critics constantly pronoune in their newspapers and media of "Syria above all." This, if it continues to be the case, is a negative indication of the health of the alternative media, and should cause alarm among all those concerned.