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03/28/2013

'An excuse to leave the most dangerous work to civilian journalists.' Paul Watson on reporting from war zones

YouTubeSyria

Syria soldiers dance to Usher's song 'Yeah' in a YouTube clip. (Credit: Ugarit News)

The CBC documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat has won a renowned Peabody Award. Made by Toronto filmmaker Martyn Burke, the documentary looks at how reporting from war zones has become increasingly dangerous.  My colleague Paul Watson was interviewed in the film about the trauma he suffered after the Somalia conflict in 1993.

He was recently in Aleppo, Syria and told me about the other challenges faced by reporters covering Syria -- the onslaught of YouTube clips. 

"I'm elated that the film is getting the attention, and praise, that it so richly deserves," Watson said.

"The most troubling thing for me as a journalist from the Syria trip was a conversation with colleagues in southern Turkey the day after I returned from Aleppo.

I was lamenting how Syria, despite the great courage of the journalists who have been covering the conflict continuously for two years now, wasn't getting enough traction in the North American public to force action a break stalemate that is killing hundreds of people a day.

I thought more Western journalists should be in Syria, making sure the terrifying human cost, and the risk that moderates will lose out if the conflict drags on much longer, is front and centre in the public's mind.

"No one wants to get kidnapped or killed," a young German filmmaker, a veteran of 13 trips to Syria over the past two years, told me.

"It's not the first war where journalists have been killed or kidnapped," I said, having reported from several where the casualty toll among colleagues was high.

"Yah, but this one is all over YouTube," someone else at the table said.

And it struck me: the digital revolution, which has created so much hope that oppressed people can unite against tyrants over their cell phones, is also giving professional journalists an excuse to leave the most dangerous work to civilian journalists.  The result is a lot of diffuse coverage that Western politicians obviously find it easy to ignore.  

That scares me more than war itself."

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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