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There's More Propaganda Than News Coming Out of Aleppo
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It has just become more dangerous to be a foreign correspondent reporting on the civil war in Syria. This is because the jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude Western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan “local activists” who cannot escape being under jihadi control.

The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda.

The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists. Killing or abducting the latter turns out to have been a smart move by the jihadis because it enabled them to establish substantial control of news reaching the outside world. This is bad news for any independent journalist entering their territory and threatening their monopoly of information.

There was always a glaring contradiction at the heart of the position of the international media: on the one hand it was impossibly dangerous for foreign journalists to enter opposition-held areas of Syria, but at the same time independent activists were apparently allowed to operate freely by some of the most violent and merciless movements on earth. The threat to Western reporters was very real: James Foley had been ritually beheaded on 8 August 2014 and Steven Sotloff a few days later, though long before then foreign journalists who entered insurgent-controlled zones were in great danger.

But the threat was just as great for a local persons living under insurgent rule who criticised their actions or ideas. This is made clear by an Amnesty International report published in July this year entitled Torture Was My Punishment. Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme of Amnesty International, says that in these areas civilians “live in constant fear of being abducted if they criticise the conduct of armed groups in power or fail to abide by the strict rules some have imposed”.

Any genuinely independent journalists or activists are targeted, according to the report. Speaking of Jabhat al-Nusra (which has renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and was formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), a 24-year-old media activist called “Issa” said “they are in control of what we can and cannot say. You either agree with their social rules and policies or you disappear.”

What follows after such an abduction is made clear by a political activist called “Ibrahim” who in 2015 organised a peaceful protest in support of the 2011 uprising. Such independent action was evidently unacceptable to Nusra who kidnapped him. He says: “I was taken to the torture room. They placed me in the shabehposition, hanging me from the ceiling from my wrists so that my toes were off the ground. Then they started beating me with cables all over my body… after the shabeh they used the dulab (tyre) technique. They folded my body and forced me to go inside a tyre and then started beating me with wooden sticks.”

Bassel, a lawyer in Idlib, said: “I was happy to be free from the Syrian government’s unjust rule, but now the situation is worse.” He criticised Nusra on Facebook and was immediately detained. Amnesty says the main armed opposition groups are equally severe on anybody differing from them.

There was a period in 2011 and 2012 when there were genuinely independent opposition activists operating inside Syria, but as the jihadis took over these brave people were forced to flee abroad, fell silent or were dead. In August 2013, I appeared on the same television programme as Razan Zaitouneh, a renowned human rights lawyer and founder of the Violations Documentation Centre which recorded crimes and atrocities. She was speaking by Skype from the opposition stronghold of Douma in north east Damascus where I had been the previous year, but it had become too risky for me to visit.

Zaitouneh was describing the sarin poison gas attack that had killed so many people in rebel-held districts of Damascus and denouncing the Syrian government for carrying it out. She was an advocate for the non-jihadi Syrian opposition, but she also criticised the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam movement that controlled Douma. On 8 December, its gunmen broke into her office and seized her and her husband Wael Hamada, and two civil rights activists: Samira al-Khalili, a lawyer, and Nazem al-Hamadi, a poet. None of the four have been seen since and are very likely dead.

It was convenient for the international media to broadcast the videos and Skype interviews from east Aleppo as if they had been given as freely as in Copenhagen or Edinburgh. To do otherwise would have damaged the credibility of the graphic and compelling material in which the speakers looked frightened, and with good reason, and there was the crackle of gunfire and the boom of exploding shells.

None of this was necessarily fake – but there were many omissions. There was no sign of the 8,000 to 10,000 armed fighters whom the UN estimated to have been in east Aleppo. In fact, I cannot recall seeing anybody with a gun or manning a fortified position in these heart-rending films. The only visible inhabitants of Aleppo are unarmed civilians, in complete contrast to Mosul where the Iraqi armed forces are battling thousands of Isis gunmen who are using the civilian population as human shields.


It would be simple-minded to believe that this very appealing and professional PR for the Syrian armed opposition is all their own work. Foreign governments play a fairly open role in funding and training opposition media specialists. One journalist of partly Syrian extraction in Beirut told me how he had been offered $17,000 a month to work for just such an opposition media PR project backed by the British government.

The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.

There is nothing wrong or surprising about the Syrian opposition demonising its enemies and hiding negative news about itself. The Iraqi opposition did the same thing in 2003 and the Libyan opposition in 2011. What is much more culpable is the way in which the Western media has allowed itself to become a conduit for propaganda for one side in this savage conflict. They have done so by rebranding it as authentic partisan information they cannot check, produced by people living under the authority of jihadi movements that tortures or kills any critic or dissenter.

News organisations have ended up being spoon-fed by jihadis and their sympathisers who make it impossible for independent observers to visit areas they control. By regurgitating information from such tainted sources, the media gives al-Qaeda type groups every incentive to go on killing and abducting journalists in order to create and benefit from a news vacuum they can fill themselves.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, ISIS, Syria 
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  1. We are still relatively safe so far in the West, no thanks to the mendacity and duplicity of some in our own government, as the oligarchy has them play their “American” Interests’ every end against the interests of middle America, here at home.

  2. From my blog:

    Dec 16, 2016 – Fake News in Syria

    After stories warning of fake news, the corporate media provided dozens of examples about Syria. Here is a quick summary for those poorly informed. Syria is the next target in the long-term plan to destroy stable Muslim nations and turn them into violent, dysfunctional tribal states, hopefully controlled by a Western puppet dictator. The USA, Saudi Arabia, and Israel sent billions of dollars in weapons and thousands of advisors to arm and train foreign jihadists in Iraq and Turkey to invade Syria and overthrow its stable, popular government. The US military began flying air support for the invaders without authority from the UN or the US Congress.

    The plan was working until Russia stood up and said no more. Russia sent aid, advisors, and aircraft to turn the tide. The legitimate Syrian government went on the offensive to recapture it’s largest city – Aleppo. This was bloody fight but Syria prevailed and is mopping up a couple thousand terrorists trapped in the city. The Syrians in Aleppo suffered from this fighting, but peace will soon prevail as the Syrian government kills the remaining jihadists and restores peace. Yet our media is filled with stories that a ceasefire is needed. Why? So the foreign jihadists can regroup and prolong the fighting?

    You do not hear this reality in the American CIA-controlled corporate press. All “news” is that evil Syrian soldiers and their allies are butchers who slaughter innocent civilians and want to destroy the city of Aleppo and kill the heroic “rebels.” Reporters in New York concoct stories with no evidence citing second hand stories from London and even Finland where CIA paid propagandists pretend to have contact with “residents” in Aleppo who feed them horror stories. Western political appointees at the UN also spread false rumors from Switzerland. The traditional standard for the old American media was that two solid first-hand sources are needed before a story is printed. But now you read about “reported” stories based on second hand hearsay from questionable sources, who are not even in Aleppo. 

    The fighting in Aleppo continues in isolated pockets with no electrical power, internet, telephone, or cell phone service. So how do these “rebel spokesmen” abroad get stories from unnamed “residents.” Where do all these Twitter messages about the horrors in Aleppo come from? Moreover, why would the Syrian army intentionally kill their own civilians? For example, a few days ago a rumor was spread by an American appointee to the UN in Switzerland that the Syrian army killed 82 civilians. No source was provided, yet this was accepted as fact and this fake news story can be found in almost every western media outlet. Yet you never find a story about the foreign jihadists killing civilians, or that they use civilians as shields and fortify hospitals.

    This is why I was thrilled to find video of an independent reporter from Canada who actually traveled to Aleppo. She appeared at a lightly attended news conference where she ridiculed the fake news churned out by the Western corporate media. Here is a great clip where she exposes fake news about Syria. Don’t expect this news from a reporter who was in Syria to appear in our corporate press.

    • Agree: Miro23
    • Replies: @El Dato
    , @James Charles
  3. MEexpert says:

    And Patrick Cockburn is part of that propaganda. The theory of use of Sarin gas by the Syrian government has been debunked by Seymour Hirsch and others. It was the CIA (US government) plot to blame Bashar Al-Assad and Patrick Cockburn is regurgitating that propaganda again.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  4. I can only repeat what I said elsewhere: this government is consistently implementing the policy of busing militants (still armed) and their families into the militant-held Idlib province, and releasing them their. Catch and release – of the armed militants. This fact is well-documented and not disputed by western presstitutes. What in the world could motivate them to combine this, incredibly soft policy with the (totally undocumented) practice of massacring civilians? This is bs.

    • Replies: @RobinG
    , @jsinton
    , @old guy
  5. Often there’s more propaganda than news coming out of Patrick Cockburn. He’s still pushing the myth of a golden age of Independent Opposition Activism early in the Civil War before the “nasty” Jihadis took over. This was a piece of propaganda by western governments to justify arming “nice, moderate” Syrian opposition groups. These groups were in reality either non-existent or very small.
    Secondly, he’s still pushing the poison gas and chemical attacks allegedly perpetrated by the Syrian government early in the war. There is no conclusive proof any actually occurred, and even if they did, they were likely “false flag” incidents.

  6. Most of us have figured out that the MSM is generating lies, lies about the American economy, lies about Russia interfering in American politics, and especially about events in the Middle East. The big question is Why. Why is the profession supposedly dedicated to telling the truth so taken now with lying? Simple – our country has become corrupt. A big element of this corruption is our embrace of Israel – a criminal enterprise that is also an apartheid society and a land thief. To equate this nasty state as a democracy is the Mother of all lies. Once a journalist starts lying (and gets well paid for the lying), lying becomes a constant habit. How do we stop the lying? Easy – call the liar and the lying out in public.

  7. Miro23 says:

    It would be simple-minded to believe that this very appealing and professional PR for the Syrian armed opposition is all their own work. Foreign governments play a fairly open role in funding and training opposition media specialists. One journalist of partly Syrian extraction in Beirut told me how he had been offered $17,000 a month to work for just such an opposition media PR project backed by the British government.

    News organizations have ended up being spoon-fed by Jihadis and their sympathizers (sponsors) who make it impossible for independent observers to visit areas they control.

    Combine this with the flow of weapons paid for and delivered by the CIA in collusion with Israel and Saudi Arabia, blanket media attacks on the Syrian government and their Russian allies, and it’s the whole “regime change” orchestra playing once again.

    The root of the problem lies with US Zionist Neo-con activists (and their collaborators), who as a group have proved that they are disloyal traitors to the US, and murderous exploiters on a vast scale, buying and threatening the government and propagandizing the public.

    If US society can’t unite sufficiently to challenge them, the country may well stumble into an Iran war and maybe even a war with Russia. There’s also a risk that the US may catch another False Flag attack, since “Pearl Harbours” are the proven way to initiate wars, particularly if you own the media and control the narrative.

    The present horror show probably started in earnest with the subversion of LBJ to the extent that he was a co-conspirator in the Israeli plan to portray their sinking of the USS Liberty (failed) as an Egyptian attack, and False Flag the US public into supporting the US bombing and destruction of Egypt. Why else did Johnson twice recall rescue flights heading for the Liberty and issue strict instructions to the survivors to say nothing at all about what happened?

  8. Diogenes says:

    “Fake News” is a euphemism and an oxymoron. It’s time to stop using this trope and use the appropriate word which is LIE[s]!!

  9. OT

    Yahoo no longer allows “comments”. (OR they’re censoring conservatives like me)

    You need to log into FaceBook or Twitter……who will censor your comments.

  10. As far as I know I’m the first person here to mention the possibility that both sides are terrible. Oh well.

    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
  11. @MEexpert

    When the article first appeared, one was going to suggest that the title, “There’s More Propaganda Than News Coming Out of Aleppo” is a little gem of self-reference, saved only by the “more”, but then one realized Señor Cockburn, or his editors, probably knew that.

  12. RobinG says:
    @Mao Cheng Ji

    It’s the “massacring civilians” that is BS. Please follow through this video for (former Marine officer) Dick Black’s explanation of catch-and-realease. Assad is concerned with reconciliation and rebuilding of the nation. (Also some great comments now.)

    Aleppo: Freed from Obama’s Terrorists

    • Replies: @Mao Cheng Ji
    , @Talha
  13. @RobinG

    It’s the “massacring civilians” that is BS.

    I know; that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. Like I said: catch-and-release is well-documented and not disputed by anyone. Therefore the allegation of massacring civilians is bs, a smear, goebbels-style propaganda. End of story.

  14. El Dato says:
    @E. A. Costa

    I thought Palmyra had been liberated with Russian air support?

    It was retaken??? And now the chairforce is there blowing up tanks, eh. Will these turn out to have been Syrian tanks?

    Oh, long-suffering Palmyra.

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
  15. El Dato says:

    Dirt-old salesmen tricks.

    You know, Germans are tossing belgian babies around on bayonets.


    (Nothing happens)

    Germans sink an english ammunition transport cunningly disguised as passenger liner cruising in a known warzone and onto which a few americans have been helpfully invited.


    (And we are in!)

    • Replies: @falcemartello
  16. El Dato says:
    @Carlton Meyer

    So who is the smarmy fellow taking the mic?

    He looks ready to grease the hinges of the door to the NYT’s editor-in-chief.

    • Replies: @RobinG
  17. kemerd says:

    I believe the author ignores the wisdom so nicely put by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”

    All the supposedly impartial journalists work for quite partial media organizations, and they clearly know what they are supposed to report. The fact is even if they were to be able report from east aleppo, they would have reported the same BS. For example, the Syrian government does not restrict them, yet they all failed to report the celebrations in Aleppo after liberation, or the actual identity of the people who have been evacuated from Aleppo; Instead, the same fabricated stories are published, even worse their actions are obviously coordinated.

    Sorry, but the the western mainstream media has become what they claimed the soviet press was like, and for quite some time.

    • Replies: @Miro23
  18. RobinG says:
    @El Dato

    Sounds like a Brit, says he works for a Norwegian paper. Here’s the whole press conference –
    Syria – Sovereignty and Peace. Press Conference, United Nations, 9 Dec

  19. Miro23 says:

    For example, the Syrian government does not restrict them, yet they all failed to report the celebrations in Aleppo after liberation, or the actual identity of the people who have been evacuated from Aleppo; Instead, the same fabricated stories are published, even worse their actions are obviously coordinated.

    Sorry, but the western mainstream media has become what they claimed the soviet press was like, and for quite some time.

    This is very true. It starts with a political decision which is implemented down the power chain.

    Start with Israel’s Likud government “We want to destroy all ME power centres” > US Neo-cons ” We need Regime Change in Iraq/Libya/Syria/Iran ” > MSM “WMD, Poison gas, Nuclear weapons programs, terrorists, targeting civilians, heroic (ISIS) revolutionaries etc.” > Congress “The West/US must urgently react to the threat and bomb Iraq/Libya/Syria/Iran” > US armies/special forces/bombers sent to ME, CIA logistics and funding for ISIS etc. and targeted countries destroyed.

    At the end of the chain, a Zionist Washington Post editor gives a specially hired Zionist journalist the theme for the days Zionist propaganda article.

  20. @El Dato

    I might add more . The west along with Israel and Turkey and the GCC have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar(Syrian Imbroglio). 21 century wire, and Off the Gaurdian reported it on the 17th. ( Foriegn military assetts(men) captured in the remaining areas 2percent of occupied Aleppo) That is why the west and the Un reps r having fits at the moment and I might also add that is why Comey FBI chief has now backed the so called CIA report that links Russia and their leader Putin to the hacks. Obama publicly stated that he has notified Putin and told him to expect the Us to respond in like . So sour grapes from the antlantacist/washington consensus mob hence Europe and the US have publicly come out and stated the extension of the economic sanctions on Russia.
    P.S It will be interesting to c how the electoral college vote will turn out on Monday. If they over turn the election hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell will break loose and Syria will come home to roost in the land of the so called free.
    Yesyerdays news gets wrapped in today’s fish

  21. @anony-mouse

    “the first person here to mention the possibility that both sides are terrible”

    I think it’s a given that most commenters here wouldn’t like to live under Assad, just as they wouldn’t have liked to live under Saddam or Gaddafi.

    You can argue that the US has in any event no right to attempt to overthrow them by armed force.

    But the point is, was post-Saddam Iraq or post-Gaddafi Libya a safer and better place for their people to live as a result of US/UK intervention? I don’t think they are.

    (This is by no means a clinching argument, but only ten years back a Westerner could book – and take – a family holiday in Syria, visit Aleppo, Damascus and Palmyra.)

  22. jsinton says:
    @Mao Cheng Ji

    Mr. Assad addressed this is question in a recent interview. He said it’s all about gains and losses. He’s calculation saving civilian lives, Syrian Army lives, taking control of the city, etc is more important than killing off the last remaining hard-core head choppers. The choppers are only supposed to only leave with light weapons.

  23. Mathias says:

    BREAKING: At Least 14 US Coalition Military Officers Captured by Syrian Special Forces in East Aleppo Bunker
    Mutaz Kanoğlu – Turkey
    David Scott Winer – USA
    David Shlomo Aram – Israel
    Muhamad Tamimi – Qatar
    Muhamad Ahmad Assabian – Saudi
    Abd-el-Menham Fahd al Harij – Saudi
    Islam Salam Ezzahran Al Hajlan – Saudi
    Ahmed Ben Naoufel Al Darij – Saudi
    Muhamad Hassan Al Sabihi – Saudi
    Hamad Fahad Al Dousri – Saudi
    Amjad Qassem Al Tiraoui – Jordan
    Qassem Saad Al Shamry – Saudi
    Ayman Qassem Al Thahalbi – Saudi
    Mohamed Ech-Chafihi El Idrissi – Moroccan

    • Replies: @E. A. Costa
    , @E. A. Costa
  24. @E. A. Costa

    Pardon, one’s error–that was the report from March 2012–came up with the search and wrongly posted.

  25. […] The Unz Review: There’s More Propaganda Than News Coming Out of Aleppo by PATRICK COCKBURN […]

  26. old guy says:
    @Mao Cheng Ji

    I don’t know. But it is possible that the Syrian government is trying to save the lives of as many civilians as possible.

    • Replies: @Mao Cheng Ji
  27. @old guy

    I don’t think governments in general are concerned about ‘saving lives’. Governments are mostly concerned about themselves.

    It appears that the Syrian government’s strategy at this time is to demonstrate as much goodwill as possible, in the hope to placate its less radical opponents, to pull them into the governments side, or at least to make them less inclined to fight and more to negotiate.

    This strategy makes perfect sense under the circumstance – considering that the Syrian government is very weak. It would simply have no chance to achieve its goals by intimidating and terrorizing the population.

    And with this strategy, massacring civilians or, for that matter, even punishing militants, would be extremely counterproductive. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely to happen.

  28. @Carlton Meyer

    “You can’t understand the conflict without talking about natural gas
    By Maj. Rob Taylor
    Much of the media coverage suggests that the conflict in Syria is a civil war, in which the Alawite (Shia) Bashar al Assad regime is defending itself (and committing atrocities) against Sunni rebel factions (who are also committing atrocities). The real explanation is simpler: it is about money.
    In 2009, Qatar proposed to run a natural gas pipeline through Syria and Turkey to Europe. Instead, Assad forged a pact with Iraq and Iran to run a pipeline eastward, allowing those Shia-dominated countries access to the European natural gas market while denying access to Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter states, it appears, are now attempting to remove Assad so they can control Syria and run their own pipeline through Turkey.”

  29. Talha says:

    Hey RobinG,

    Thanks (and to Carlton Meyer also) for the excellent videos. The Syrian government’s commitment to reconciliation will go a long way in bringing back stability in Syria and also in helping keep these kinds of rebellions from starting in the first place. When the people of the ME see that the alternatives to their governments (which they may have problems with) are blood-thirsty murderers who don’t give a damn about sacrificing them in order to retain power, hopefully they will stop these things from arising at step 1.

    Hezbollah’s commitment to reconciliation after the Civil War in Lebanon was instrumental in bringing back the peace and making them wildly popular in the aftermath. Sunnis around the world came to respect them for that.

    Seconding Mao on his assessment as well – Syrian gov’t should be magnanimous in victory to show themselves apart from the extremists otherwise those wounds will fester again for a decade or so before being released.

    May God grant peace and safety for all the people of Syria and Iraq.


    • Replies: @RobinG
  30. […] There’s More Propaganda Than News Coming Out of Aleppo […]

  31. RobinG says:

    Well, Mao has a point that it’s politically astute, but imo he’s overly cynical to say Assad’s government doesn’t care about lives. Bashar is a decent person, and there were civilians, children, relatives and friends of his soldiers, if not himself, trapped in E. Aleppo. I believe they were genuinely doing their best.

    In contrast, the radio tonight tells of US coalition bombing a hospital in Mosul -because it was fortified by militants- and nary a critical peep.

    It’s been an intense 2 weeks for the Hands Off Syria Coalition, hosting Eva Bartlett’s speaking tour. Things picked up exponentially after her UN press conference. (Many thanks to that smug reporter for setting her up like that. The video has gone viral.) Politicians, Big Media, and sadly, the mass of Americans are immune to facts, but the survivors from E. Aleppo are confirming Eva’s observations and analysis, any many new people are reconsidering their assumptions.

    Can we possibly free Trump from his anti-Iran indoctrination? Still a rocky road ahead, but he may see the light between here and Damascus. 😉

  32. […] middle east journalist for the Independent of London, Patrick Cockburn, has written about the clever (and successful) policy by the jihadists who controlled E. Aleppo of killing and/or […]

  33. […] arme Tropf hätte nur in diesen Aufsatz von Patrick Cockburn oder in diesen Bericht eines ehemaligen Amnesty Interntional-Funktionärs hieineinzulesen brauchen, […]

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