by Pesach Benson

      Ola Abbas

Syria's top news personality, Ola Abbas, who defected[1] to the rebels a month ago, described the government's propaganda machine to Der Spiegel.[2] What makes the defection all the more damning is that Abbas is an Alawite.

Orwellian repeatedly came to mind as I read the interview:

The word "demonstrators" was prohibited in the media from the start. Soon there was no longer just talk of "people who are going into the streets to cause chaos," but also of "armed groups," "conspirators" and, finally, "extremists, Islamists and terrorists." The uprising was dubbed a "conspiracy" and the revolution a "crisis." As the rhetoric escalated, so did the conflict . . .

She obediently quoted SANA, the Syrian state news agency, which she says gets its information directly from the information office at the presidential palace . . .

One day the secret police came and took away a colleague who had filmed a pro-Assad demonstration in way that made it obvious that hardly anyone was there. Abbas hasn't seen him since. And still she said nothing . . .

Soon notes were posted at the station with the names of singers like Fadl Shaker and Assala Nasri, whose music was no longer to be played. At a certain point, live conversations with listeners were no longer permitted because they couldn't be controlled.

Abbas also said the state-run media's collapsing into irrelevancy:

Abbas is the first broadcast media host to defect. But she might not be the last. She says she knows other journalists in the state-owned media who are sympathetic to the opposition but are still holding out.

She speculates that perhaps it's because they are unwilling to leave their families or give up a relationship, as she did. Or perhaps they are afraid of what will happen once Assad is gone.

Meanwhile, the dictator is also losing support among those who speak on his behalf. In any case, few people believe what's reported anymore. Now that the fighting has spread to Damascus, Syrians know that their country is embroiled in a large-scale rebellion.

Bashar Assad and Barbara Walters
    Bashar Assad and Barbara Walters

Unless circumstances change dramatically, it'll be a long time till any Western reporter bothers meeting Bashar Assad.

The last two Western reporters of note to interview him both wound up apologizing, albeit for different reasons. The mea culpas from Barbara Walters[3] and Joan Juliet Buck[4] (formerly of Vogue) said a lot about Assad's propaganda machine.

But the defection of Abbas — an insider — is a big hit for the Damascus spinmeisters.






This article appeared August 27, 2012 in Honest Reporting

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