Wednesday, May 22, 2013
How do we actually know what is going on in Syria? International media have little to no access to Syria and President Assad only tells his own version of the truth. Thanks to citizen journalists and activists the world knows there is not just one reality. But, are their reports trustworthy? 'Information from Syria has a serious legitimacy problem. Media have a tendency to qualify citizen-journalism as 'hard to verify'. We want to get rid of that label', says Leon Willems, director of Free Press Unlimited. It is time for an Independent Press Agency in Syria.

'Credibility through quality'
'Many Syrians tell us they are in need of independent information. They are not satisfied with the quality of the state channels, or with the news from the opposition', says an employee of Free Press Unlimited. What information can Syrians rely on? The highest priority of the Syria Newsdesk is independent reporting. An extensive network of correspondents working in the field report to the editorial office, which is located in a neighboring country for safety reasons. Editors compare submitted stories and conduct a thorough fact-check. 'A news agency gains credibility through quality information', says Willems. 'That is exactly what we are going to do in the months to come.'

Objective: compete with Reuters and AP
How can reporters assess reports from citizen journalists? Separating the wheat from the chaff and writing independent reports, that is what 32 carefully selected candidates have been trained to do the past months. The reporters from the brand new Syria Newsdesk must be able to compete with international news agencies like Reuters and AP. The agency is independent, meaning that opposition members can not participate. For instance, a candidate who had written glorifying stories about his fighting against Assad was excluded from further participation. Willems: 'We have selected reporters based on their professional approach towards journalism.'

There is more to Syria than war
'Many Syrians are complaining about the fact that all the news is about the war. There are more stories to be told', says Willems in an interview with Radio 1. There is more to Syria than just war. Life goes on, even though it can be hard. Lately, the Syria Newsdesk has reported about peaceful demonstrations in Aleppo, rising fuel prices and the launch of a new TV series in Homs, which is meant to reconcile hostile groups. The Arabic website has recently been established. The English version can soon be expected.


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