Horror in Homs: speaking truth to power

One of those moments tonight when, following the daily routine of watching the night’s TV news, you are pulled up short.  Channel 4 News broadcast outstanding video footage, filmed by an anonymous French photojournalist, that revealed graphically what is happening in the Syrian city of Homs, under siege for days now from shelling by government forces.

We’ve seen a lot of low quality footage, filmed on mobile phones and the like, beamed out of Syria on YouTube and other internet channels.  But this film, shot by ‘Mani’, a photographer who has been to Homs several times,was crystal clear.  The  incredible footage a vivid and  frightening account of what Homs has been like for the past three weeks.   The massive Syrian government bombardment and assault on opposition districts in Homs began on February 3.   ‘Mani’ filmed the beginning of the assault, the effects on the population, and the response of the Free Syrian Army to the massacre, on the first day, of over 140 people.

It was an awful coincidence that Mani’s film was broadcast on what has been the worst day in the Syrian conflict for journalism. The dangers of reporting from Homs have been tragically highlighted by the deaths of Marie Colvin (of the Sunday Times) and award-winning French photographer Remi Ohlik.  His image, ‘Battle for Libya’ (below), won first prize in the general news section of the 2011 World Press Photo awards. It shows rebel forces outside Ras Lanouf, Libya, in March 2011.

Marie Colvin was a foreign correspondent with more than 30 years of experience in conflict zones.  In 2010, she spoke of the importance of war reporting:

Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you. […]

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?  Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price. … I lost my eye in an ambush in the Sri Lankan civil war. I had gone to the northern Tamil area from which journalists were banned and found an unreported humanitarian disaster. As I was smuggled back across the internal border, a soldier launched a grenade at me and the shrapnel sliced into my face and chest. He knew what he was doing.

We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.

Also dead is the citizen journalist Rami al-Sayed, who provided live video streams from Homs and posted more than 800 videos on YouTube.  He was also hit during the shelling of Baba Amr on Tuesday and died some hours later.  His YouTube channel, Syria Pioneer provided many of the online videos showing the Syrian government’s bombardment of Homs that were used by news organisations like ITN and the BBC.

Tonight, Channel 4 News concluded with the grim news that there are now no remaining channels for news out of Homs.

3 thoughts on “Horror in Homs: speaking truth to power

  1. Sobering. To identify with war torn places in order to inform the world of the tragedy takes tremendous courage and bravery. Such a vitally important job which too often goes unrecognised. Sadly, I suspect that we live in a society where the majority of viewers ‘tune out’ and take the attitude that if the dirt is not on their own doorstep they don’t need to worry about it.

  2. And then, if we do tune in there’s the question of what to do – intervene? If so, what kind of intervention? Military intervention hasn’t been too successful in the last decade.

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