No, I am not cruel nor am I insensitive. On the contrary, I think what would have definitely been insensitive was NOT to cry upon watching the recent video of five-year-old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh. If you missed it, the horrific footage shows this shell-shocked airstrike survivor wiping dried blood and thick soot off his face inside an ambulance in Aleppo.
An equally widely-shared video was that of CNN’s Kate Bolduan, the renowned news anchor who wept as she told the story of how Omran’s home and family were torn apart by this airstrike. Her tears were a reminder that no matter how impartial or tough we appear to be as journalists, we are only human at the end of the day.
However, I do have a serious issue with what Ms. Bolduan said next. Reading off a teleprompter, she said: “Who’s behind it (the attack)? We don’t know.”
This in no way is an attack on Kate or on CNN in particular (the channel did - a few days later - go as far as reporting that “activists blame the Syrian regime and Russia for the bombings in Aleppo”). However, the fact remains that “the international media doesn’t do a very thorough job of identifying the perpetrators of many attacks on civilians” as Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Damascus, puts it.
Of course, covering Syria isn’t easy. At first, the Assad regime made it very difficult for any journalist who didn’t toe the line to work locally. The situation got worse when terrorist groups got involved and several fellow reporters were harassed, kidnapped, injured or killed.
The alternative is, of course, content made available by activists, aid workers and/or first responders. Most of the time, such content can’t be independently verified and given that most attacks on civilians are orchestrated without anyone claiming responsibility for them, the ability of many media outlets to confidently report on the full details is hindered.
The other reason why some editors opt to leave out perpetrator details is that international bodies, such as the UN, don’t publically place the blame on anyone. According to Mr. Ford, the UN is often reluctant to charge certain countries with responsibility because it needs to maintain humanitarian aid access and communication on political issues.
The word is not enough!
However, it is simply unacceptable that we can’t find out the truth about this attack in an era of satellite imagery, high-speed internet and global telecoms. Let us not forget that - given the current situation – Syria is probably the most carefully watched geographical location on our planet!
Now, whilst the information might not all be available at the time news breaks, it is our duty - both as journalists and concerned citizens of the world - to ensure that pressure is placed on those who possess it.
Without information, accountability can’t be established and we will eternally continue to wonder ‘till when will this atrocity continue?’Faisal J. Abbas
Media outlets and voters residing in democratic countries (where freedom of information acts are enacted) have a much bigger responsibility in attempting to achieve this. Without information, accountability can’t be established and we will eternally continue to wonder “till when will this atrocity continue?”
We should remember that our tears and angry Facebook posts will not do anything to help Omran. In fact, in a few days, the news cycle will inevitably move on and we will completely forget about him as we did with the late Aylan Kurdi.
As such, I call upon everyone who shared Omran’s video, tweeted about their frustration at how unfair our world is and wondered how they could help to actively demand that the truth be made public. Otherwise, you might as well stop pretending to care and go back to posting selfies and Instagram snaps of what you had for breakfast instead.
To make it simpler for all of us, we should remember that there are only two entities who possess the capabilities to launch such an airstrike: the US-led coalition and the Russian/Syrian regime forces.
For his part, Mr. Ford - who is currently a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington – says that it is “almost certainly, either Russian aircrafts or Syrian government aircrafts that undertook the airstrike.
“If it was a ground-to-ground rocket strike, it would have come from pro-government forces shelling of east Aleppo’s Qaterji district. It is exceptionally unlikely that the attack came from an opposition armed group,” he explained.
Commenting on behalf of the US government, regional spokesperson Nathanial Tek categorically denied that the American-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL conducted any recent airstrikes in, or around, Aleppo and added that the comprehensive list of all US-led strikes are made public and are available through this website: www.inherentresolve.mil
“I will leave it to the Russian government to comment on the activities of their military,” added Mr. Tek.
On the other hand, neither the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) nor its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) have responded to attempts to obtain a comment regarding this matter. However, the state-owned media outlet RT recently published a statement by a MoD spokesperson claiming that the Russian Air Force “never works on targets within civilian areas.”
One last thing worth mentioning is that as important as the Omran story is, it must not allow us to forget that three people died in a Syrian chlorine gas attack 10 days ago. This comes almost exactly three years after the horrific Ghouta chemical attack which took the lives of more than a thousand people. It also occurred despite the Assad regime joining the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreeing to get rid of its chemical stockpile.
One can only imagine how many children like Omran would have suffocated in these attacks and how horrific those images would have been. Judging by the global failure to end the plight of the Syrian people, however, I am not sure if the release of such footage would have made a difference!
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.