< Silencing the Messenger in Syria


Friday, February 24, 2012

BOB GARFIELD:  From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  And I’m Brooke Gladstone.


You’re hearing live stream video posted on YouTube of the Syrian government’s bombardment of civilians in Homs, state policy that a United Nations panel this week said amounts to a “crime against humanity.” Citizen journalists, like this 26-year-old live streamer, Rami al Sayed, often have been the only ones in position to expose what’s happening in Syria. Now he’s dead, killed Tuesday in the streets of Homs.


Once there were wars in which journalists were considered if not honest brokers, then parties to be courted, when waggish American Middle East reporters could wear t-shirts exhorting in Arabic, “Don’t shoot, Press” and assume, at the very least, it would not make them more of a target. But that was decades ago.


BOB GARFIELD:  Now you’re hearing the Skype conversation on Wednesday between two Syrian activists, one at a makeshift press center in the Baba Amr district of Homs. Marie Colvin is there, legendary American journalist, reporting for the UK’s Sunday Times.


Marie Colvin was 56. Through the miracle of Skype you just heard her die. Also there was Remi Ochlik, 28, a prize-winning French photographer. He died as well.



MARIE COLVIN:  But the baby’s death was – just heartbreaking, possibly ‘cause it was so quiet, one of the –


BOB GARFIELD:  Marie Colvin, on what may have been her last broadcast with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She was in a makeshift clinic, an apartment, actually, with plasma bags hanging from coat hangers.


MARIE COLVIN:  And then the doctor said there’s nothing we could do, and we just watched – you – this little boy – you know, his little tummy heaving and heaving, as he tried to breathe. It was – it was horrific. Just, I mean, my heart broke.


BOB GARFIELD:  In a private message to a colleague on Facebook, she wrote, “Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by, and I should be hardened by now.” She added, “Will keep trying to get out the information.”


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Generally we, at On the Media, are resistant to what we’ve come to call journalist-in-peril stories; after all, like soldiers or firefighters, journalists choose to put themselves in danger.

But obviously, Colvin and her tribe are there for those who didn’t choose, whose deaths during the eleven-month Syrian uprising passed 5,400 in January, which is when the United Nations stopped counting because they – couldn’t verify the numbers. As this tribute demonstrates, the citizens of Homs understand the sacrifice of those who choose, whether salaried with a computer, freelance with a camera or amateur with a cell phone. In these interconnected worlds they are united against a common enemy, silence.

BOB GARFIELD:  Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who was with Colvin in Homs last week, said they’d been told the Syrian government intended to shell the media center. He said the Syrian Army issued orders to, quote, “Kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil.”

Rupert Murdoch, who as owner of The Sunday Times was Marie Colvin’s ultimate boss, described her as, quote, “one of the most outstanding foreign correspondents of her generation, with a determination that the misdeeds of tyrants and the suffering of the victims did not go unreported.”

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Funny story.  The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reported that Marie Colvin feared that her accounts of indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian government were not able to reach the widest possible audience because of The Sunday Times pay wall.

Days before her death she asked a fellow journalist to post her article where non-subscribers could read it. “You have my permission to post it,” she said, “and I will take the firing squad in the morning.” She apparently knew that she would bring down the wrath of her bosses.

Stelter reported that on Wednesday, the day of her death, it seemed to be the only article by or about Marie Colvin that could be read by non-subscribers, and that includes her obituary.