Russia’s involvement in Syria meets with hysterical headlines

Russia’s entry into the on-going conflict in Syria presents another chance to look at the role of the mainstream media (MSM) in the age of the Internet. While the western mainstream media were quick to hail the triumph of social media over ‘censored traditional media’ in the Arab world at the time of the Arab Spring, western mainstream media seemed to have contented themselves with merely reviewing and increasing their presence on social media, and their role as gatekeepers of the news, influencers of public opinion would continue undiminished. MSM seemed to have been unaware of the erosion of their place in the world of public opinion. What they seemed to have overlooked was that it was not their presence or absence on social media platforms that was in question, it was their role as gatekeepers of the news that was in question – they no longer had the monopoly on what was reported, when and how it was reported.

The hysterical reports by the western press about civilian deaths caused by the Russian bombing did not produce the kind of response that one would have expected. This is because the public is much more sophisticated in searching for alternative sources of news – the Internet.

Civil protests which began early 2011 in Syria quickly disintegrated into a civil war, with the Syrian government battling on many fronts against US/Israel/Turkey/UK/French backed disparate group of rebels, made up of exiles, political groups, armed militants etc. characterised by different ideological, ethnic and/or sectarian affiliations. From Free Syrian Army (FSA) to Kurdish YPG, Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, to Al-Nusra Front, SRF, Hazzm Movement to ISIL. And it is correct to say at no time until Russia’s entry into the conflict has there been more hysterical headlines in the mainstream media, than now. A recent Daily Mail’s (London tabloid) headline “Horrifying ‘proof’ Russians ARE bombing civilians in Syria: …” accompanied by pictures of a child with a shrapnel injury was met with derision from its readers with such comments like – “Like the UK and US never did? Cut it out DM” wrote Phil from Cardiff. And another reader from New Zealand commented – “hunting for headlines again using kids . . . and what about the thousands killed by all the other coalition fighters, and the Rebels, don’t show many of those photos do you”. Comments to such hysterical headlines were practically the same across the board.

The reporting of casualties, caused by other foreign actors in the Syrian crisis by MSM has lacked the same sense of urgency until now and it seems that in its zeal MSM overlooked one small detail: People now have at their disposal, at their fingertips, other sources of information and they had not been waiting around for the past 3 years for MSM to bring the news home to them.

Published in The European Financial Review on October 1 2015