Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar's royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.
The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria's borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. Assad claims he is about to do that, a point he has repeated in his latest speeches. But it is vital that he publishes the election law as soon as possible, permits political parties and makes a commitment to allow independent monitors to watch the poll.
Biased media coverage also continues to distort the Arab League's observer mission in Syria. When the league endorsed a no-fly zone in Libya last spring, there was high praise in the west for its action. Its decision to mediate in Syria was less welcome to western governments, and to high-profile Syrian opposition groups, who increasingly support a military rather than a political solution. So the league's move was promptly called into doubt by western leaders, and most western media echoed the line. Attacks were launched on the credentials of the mission's Sudanese chairman. Criticisms of the mission's performance by one of its 165 members were headlined. Demands were made that the mission pull out in favour of UN intervention.
Last month, the American Conservative carried an article by former CIA agent Philip Giraldi providing a detailed description of the operation that is being mounted by the US and its NATO allies to foment armed conflict inside Syria.
“Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers” from Libya, Giraldi wrote. “Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and US Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.”
Turkey appears to be taking the lead in these operations, reportedly providing a base near the border for training Syrian insurgents and discussing with its NATO allies the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Syrian territory.
According to the United Nations, which has relied largely on Syrian opposition sources for its information, some 5,000 Syrians have been killed since mass demonstrations against the Assad government began some 10 months ago. The Syrian government has claimed that 2,000 members of its security forces have died in fighting with armed groups.
Increasingly, the crisis is taking on the characteristics of a sectarian civil war, pitting elements of the country’s Sunni majority population against the regime and its security forces, which are dominated by the Alawite Shia sect of Assad. In the central city of Homs, the scene of some of the bloodiest clashes, there have been reports of killings and terror used to divide neighborhoods along sectarian lines.
Within the United States, there is a steady drumbeat of discussion of a military intervention in the media and political establishment think tanks. Typical is a January 17 article published by the Atlantic entitled “It's Time to Think Seriously About Intervening in Syria.” The author, Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, makes the case for a “human rights,” “responsibility to protect” intervention, citing Libya as an example of what supposedly can be done in Syria.