It has never been easy to be a journalist in Syria. Hell no! Getting an interview means repeated calls, faxes and emails and a series of delays but finally you’d get what you want. Since the unrest began this March, this is no longer the case.
The unrest has shaken everyday Syrians’ views of the press. The authorities’ decision to limit local and foreign journalists’ access to unrest areas made most reporting on the unrest inaccurate. Syrians have been watching with dismay events that they’ve witnessed reported differently on the screen. Instead of trying to make their voice heard, however, a great many have chosen to turn their back to the press and look for the news from neighbours, friends and relatives. “That’s the one thing I can be sure of,” one of my interviewees said.
Speaking to the media also has a price. Celebs, once considered national symbols, were turned into traitors by the media in the blink of an eye because they made their views on the unrest public. Close monitoring by the secret police of the opposition and mass arrests of “vandals” since the beginning of the unrest also made Syrians wary of speaking their minds to the press.
Since the beginning of the unrest, people have been increasingly reluctant to give me phone interviews preferring to meet in person. Instead of me asking the questions, I’d often start the interview answering their questions: Who do you work for? Who is the owner of the magazine? What do you think of the Syrian revolution?
Several sources refused to give me an interview because they suspected the magazine might be “pro government”. Many others, including old acquaintances, simply did not reply to my repeated emails and calls. Those who agreed to talk often asked me not to reveal their real identity or warned: “are you sure you wanna publish this?”
Whether out of fear from Syrian authorities or distrust of the media, it is better to keep away from journalists, a young man told me quoting an old Arab saying: “The door that lets the wind in better be closed.”