What do we really know about Aleppo?

Now we have “war crimes” charges bouncing around about the rebel effort to break the Syrian government siege of the rebel-held part of Aleppo. But what do we really know? I discussed that vital question a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

The problem is–news from Syria is mostly second hand. There are few actual foreign correspondents in Syria, and those who are there face dangers, limitations and problems every inch of the way. So news outlets rely on other sources. The most prominent is the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. If you look at the bottom of the map I’ve attached to this post, you’ll see that it’s been printed by Agence France Presse, a leading news agency, but the source is SOHR. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

I’m not implying that SOHR is unreliable, but its agenda is not that of a journalist. It’s a human rights organization, and most of its sources are on the rebel side. It’s usually impossible to cross-check and verify information coming out of Syria, so we go with what we have.

The have been  failures. Several years ago, news agencies circulated a video that seemed to show Syrian troops burying rebels alive. That turned out to be a fake. Other scenes have been staged–sometimes they’re caught before news agencies out them out, and sometimes not. Often it’s hard to tell.

This is a region-wide issue. There’s only one nation in the region where reporters are free to operate within understandable limits, and that’s Israel. The limits apply to military operations as they are happening and similar scenarios, and even those limits can be breached easily in the age of the Internet.

Others in the region are much more efficient in controlling what you (and their own citizens) know. They threaten reporters, jail them, threaten their families. You don’t hear about that, because even disclosing the intimidation could put local reporters at risk. Here’s more about intimidation of reporters.

All we can do is look carefully at what we’re reading and try to figure out where it’s coming from. It’s not a substitute for Western-style journalism standards–but it’s all we’ve got.

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