Is al-Assad winning the propaganda war in Syria?
Analysts say that for Bashar al-Assad, the key to winning the media war is not credibility, but a strong, consistent message.
August 20th, 2012
02:55 PM ET

Is al-Assad winning the propaganda war in Syria?

By Ben Lynfield, Global Post

Editor’s note: The following text is from Global Post, which provides views — importantmoving or just odd — from around the world. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

One image of the Syrian conflict that has resonated widely in the West is that of corpses, including those of children, who have fallen victim to government attacks.

But a far more heroic image of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security forces is being fostered by the regime’s own media, part of a determined effort to keep up morale as fighting continues to rage in Aleppo and other cities.

Nightly on state television, pictures are shown of children kissing soldiers or being hoisted aloft by them, with a patriotic song, “This is the Nation’s Army,” playing in the background.

On August 1, Armed Forces Day, a picture of a small boy in a scouts uniform, saluting and handing a red rose to a wounded soldier on his hospital bed, led state media coverage. It was complemented by reports from across Syria of citizens paying blustery tributes to the army for, in their words, shielding the nation from the sweeping international conspiracy against it.

More from Global Post: Inside Syria  

A citizen identified as Mohammed al-Samia was quoted in al-Baath, the daily newspaper of Assad's political party, applauding the army for "arriving in neighborhoods to save [citizens] from the crimes of traitors. The army is showing that Syria is a rock that won't be broken by conspiracies."

Such invocation of conspiracies under way against Syria are all pervasive on television and in the newspapers, including state-run Tishreen, and al-Watan, which claims to be independent but is published by Assad's tycoon cousin, Rami Makhlouf.

The Syrian government is telling its people that the bloodshed is not the result of an uprising, or even civil war, but rather entirely the outcome of conspiratorial foreign (be it U.S., Turkish, European, Saudi, Qatari, Israeli, Al Qaeda or others) interventions aimed at subverting Syria. The reason? Because Syria is a steadfast Arab nationalist state.

As the conflict drags on, some developments have emerged to support such conspiracies. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both funding and arming Syria’s rebels. And groups aligned with al Qaeda have trickled in over the borders of Iraq and Lebanon to join the fight. But foreign governments and other groups are also backing the Syrian regime, including Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.

Analysts say that for the regime, credibility is not the key to winning the media war, but rather the ability to pass a strong, consistent message.

Nadim Shehadi, a specialist on Syria and Lebanon at Chatham House, the think-tank of the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, said Syrian television, despite a lack of credibility in its reports, is playing a highly effective role in the war.

"My impression is they are doing quite a good job and are much more effective than the opposition media," Shehadi said. "Their aim is not to be credible but to pass messages, such as that the regime is strong. People don't have to believe what is being broadcast, but the overall message is 'we're here and here to stay,' which is quite strong."

More from Global Post: Syrian conflict: A proxy war against Iran? 

Both the regime and its opponents view the media war as crucial to the outcome of the fighting, with the Arab League in June officially asking satellite operators Arabsat and Nilesat to stop broadcasting Syrian television stations. On August 6, a bomb exploded at the offices of the Syrian broadcasting authority in Damascus, wounding several people.

The regime’s claim of a foreign conspiracy reached a fever pitch in an analysis earlier this month in al-Watan by Maysoun Youssef. Citing what she said were Turkish media reports, Youssef wrote that the American military in Turkey is equipping al Qaeda fighters against Syria.

"The real cooperation between this terrorist organization and American intelligence affirms the American dissemblance in fighting al Qaeda and its terrorism," she wrote.

On Wednesday, al-Baath, also citing Turkish media reports, charged that Turkish President Abdullah Gul was cooperating with al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri with the goal of “partitioning Syria and shaking its stability."

The same day, Tishreen proclaimed that the bombing of national security headquarters in Damascus last month, in which several key regime security figures were killed, "was carried out with American logistical support."

Writer Nahla Al-Muaz provided no evidence for this but said it was part of a U.S. attempt "to push the Syrian government to surrender."

"Obama never mentions the reason for his interest in overthrowing the government of Syria," she wrote. "But hidden behind the humanist claims, the motivations are clear to any political analyst. They are firstly to get rid of the Russian naval base in Syria and deprive Russia of its only Mediterranean base. Secondly, the aim is to isolate Syria to prevent the provision of arms to Hezbollah so as to help Israel in its efforts to occupy South Lebanon and control its water resources."

In their accounts of the fighting, Syrian newspapers invariably stress the presence of "terrorists of Arab, foreign and African nationality."

More from Global Post: Do Israelis support an attack on Iran? (Video) 

Meanwhile, Al-Watan, Assad's cousin's paper, claimed the West is conspiring to destroy the country because Syria "refuses the demands of imperialism and refuses to sign a peace treaty with the Zionist entity," according to an analysis by Mohammed Ashraf al-Bayoumi. "Refusal to meet foreign demands is the real reason the regime is being targeted."

To counter Syria's international isolation, the media gives great stress to statements of support for Syria from Russian and Iranian leaders. "Democratic Korea (North Korea) fully supports Syria against the state terrorism of the United States and its allies" flashed a ticker on state television last week.

On Thursday, a day after Syria was suspended from the Saudi-backed Organization for Islamic Cooperation, coverage focused not on the decision itself but on condemnation of the move by Iran and a group of pro-Syrian Lebanese clerics.

Above all, the Syrian media tries to give the impression that the army is winning the war, inflicting "awesome" losses on opponents, constantly pursuing "scattered remnants" of terrorist cells and that the military is strong.

"Every day the achievements are greater and greater," an announcer said Wednesday. Over and over again, military recruitment advertisements are broadcast, inviting youngsters to join in the homeland's defense. The ads feature fighter jets streaking across the skies, ships firing off missiles, and a woman soldier opening up with an automatic weapon.

Another key message is that life is going on as usual despite the uprising, with the television news headlines last week stressing that Damascus markets are full and a report featuring interviews with children about what toys their parents had bought them for the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

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Topics: Syria

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Amjad Of Arabia

    I'm very glad to see Mr Zakaria back after his absence. He is a rare informed and intelligent commentator in a field filled with self-important and intellectually lazy posers.

    However, from reading this article, it would appear that the only "achievement" the regime's propaganda outlets have managed is to maintain their fantasy that all is well and only a few pockets of resistance remain. It is wrong to say that a media outlet does not need to be credible, otherwise why would anyone watch it? To get a dose of spirit-lifting fantasy? Sooner or later, the real world has to intrude into even the densest make-believe world. One can't live in a fantasy bubble forever.

    August 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      Gee Amjad, you sound like another propagandist for the right-wing Western news media. With all this right-wing propaganda from our own media people, it's almost impossible to know what's truly going on in Syria these days.

      August 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
      • Patrick

        Good post, Lyndsie.

        August 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

        I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

        August 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
      • Carbonscam

        Just know this, its the Brits behind the scenes pushing terrorism.b The UN are Criminals run by Brit-Zionists.

        January 8, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      Someone needs to blow up all of the TV transmitters in Syria next week.

      August 22, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
      • Marine5484

        Gee whiz Sir Arthur....., you sound like another hateful Tea Partier. How do know that the Assad regime isn't telling the truth?

        August 23, 2012 at 1:53 am |
      • Rick Cain

        Blowing up TV transmitters is a war crime, defined by the UN. Funny how the USA did this in Somalia though too.

        August 24, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  2. deniz boro

    Right. Remember what H.G. Wells said in his "Short History of the World"? Actually on AmoebaI division and reproduction. I bought about 5-7 of that book and gifted it to those in NEED. Sometimes mistaken but a funny way of relaying historical events. It said brought a light to the Euroean hussle and bussle of creating the "UNITED WORLD" -The world meaning the than known world- shaped current European geography. Overpassing the Ionian and Greek Times it started with a war between the Aegean People and the Persians.....Than there were the Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler. What I want to say in short is that what we live through now is a version of that amobea behavior but albight in the Middle East Region of the world which is widely populated by the Muslim people.

    August 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  3. Ferhat Balkan

    Stalin and Hitler often took photos of themselves with children just like the one pictured above to promote their political agenda. But it's nothing more than a cover on a book that is riddled with massacre, torture, indiscriminate bombing and rule based on fear.

    August 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      You seem to forget Ferhat, that these so-called "rebels" are committing atrocities on the people, too. It's not so one-sided as the right-wing news media portends this to be! The bottom line here is that the U.S. and it's worthless NATO "allies" need to sit this one out and let things in Syria take their course!

      August 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
      • Andrey

        Lyndsie Graham: I agree with you except for the "...right-wing news media..." part. I do not think there is right-wing news media in the West. CNN and Fox: the same crap another pile. When it comes to any issue outside US party politics: you will hardly distinguish what channel the news and comments are coming from... And they are all liberal controlled: in US or in Europe or anywhere in the world – so they are all pretty much leftist, as their masters.

        August 21, 2012 at 10:00 am |
      • John

        Lyndsie Graham you yourself sound like pro Assad propagandist. Do not portray your self as fair and balanced when you are obviously siding with one of the most brutal dictatorship of our times. If it wasn’t for the "worthless" NATO Gaddafi would still been alive and in control and additional thousand of people would lost their lives. The fact is Assad family (Bashar dad Hafiz Assad) came in power through military coup 40+ years ago which is by itself illegitimate and during the course of this one family rule, millions of people got murdered, jailed and tortured. Syria today according to United Nations is regarded as one of the worst countries when it comes to corruption index, human rights and social justice or you regard the UN as "worthless". And where is your anger at countries like Russia and China who are giving the regime green light to kill and torture their people? The Assad regime wasn’t created 17 months ago, again its been in full power for over 40 years so go back to history books before enlightening us with your smart :unbiased" comments

        August 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  4. lee

    Does writter any evidences that can cancel syrian propaganda or claim . You just mention the correct points but could not refute the arguments . We are 90% syrian , do not want to see America talking in our affairs . If you worry about Human rights , go to Burma . Brainwashed western people . The USA wanted to invade Syria for money .

    August 21, 2012 at 12:30 am | Reply
  5. lee

    And opposition does not have any support

    August 21, 2012 at 12:31 am | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Pathetic! Poor Assad and his henchmen need delusions to hang on to power, hoping they could boost the morale of his fighters and the ethnic and religious minorities, who still support him. This kind of propaganda is hopelessly dated. Assad seemed not to realise that we no longer live in the Cold War era.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:14 am | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      If Bashar al-Assad was half as unpopular as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Ben Ali of Tunisia had been j.von hettlingen, he'd be long gone but isn't. The right-wing news media wants us to believe otherwise. On the other hand, these self-styled, Western backed "liberators" aren't all that popular either!

      August 21, 2012 at 7:51 am | Reply
  7. Andrey

    I think Assad is loosing the propaganda war: it is difficult to fight against al Qaeda which commands support from all major Western news channels...

    August 21, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
  8. EVN

    Assad lost the propaganda war months ago. The Syrian media doesn't try to be credible simply because it can't be. It would mean reporting on Assad's military killing civilians, using snipers to shoot protesters, and more recently inflict terror everywhere. SANA will never report that – it can't – and not allowing outside journalists in to report is completely in line with repressive regimes trying to control the news and is a major reason why relatively little of what is going on day to day is known to the outside world. Yes, some of the opposition have committed their own atrosities, but is that really all that surprising considering what Assad, his military, and the regime aligned militias did first? It isn't an excuse, but just an observation that barbaric actions will beget barbaric revenge responses.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
  9. joe anon 1

    the propaganda war is being waged by the zionized u.s.

    syrians support their govt. propaganda isnt needed.

    only the u.s. and its master, jewry, need to lie.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Word Jew is based on Latin word Yahood, Je or Ja, Ye, or Ya, meaning from heart and mind base word for Yes in English, HOOD, habit or habitat, meaning, self centered or a secular, denier of truth absolute, such as King, or Pig, in disregard to truth absolute and Judaism, One who takes a wow to be in violation of truth by his intent, considering himself to be the God, the truth absolute, same as in hindu, denier of truth absolute, word hindu is based on Latin word hindrance, negativity, HAN, great, Hun, to be in greatness and hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity, as in word Jew, a self centered or a criminal, otherwise known as a goon, a shaman. Judaism is not a religion but in opposition, defiance to truth absolute in self center ism. What do you expect from hindu Jew's, filthy self centered and their hindu gentile, terrorist slave Christians.

      August 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Reply
      • Al

        What? Please clarify what the heck you are talking about as I read this as a collection of unrelated words strung together in some random order.

        August 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • KeyserSoze

      0.24% of the *world* population are Jews, about 1/4 of them children. There is a higher probability that space aliens and secret clans control the US than Jews.... You are just another ignorant anti-Semite expressing your misguided hate.

      August 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  10. joe anon 1

    should add,

    the assad lead govt is defeating the criminals.

    america, israel, pack your guns and lies and get lost.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
  11. rightospeak

    It is a proxy war and propaganda is the big part of it.Just look at CNN's propaganda daily-blood,bodies, a very powerfool visual tool. When one reads about the Libyan bandits that violated Human Rights in Libya being used as reinforcements for the "opposition" all propaganda credibility goes down the drain.
    Assad is one of the few Socialists in the Middle East, the rest are kings or religious dictatorships ( includes Israel and Iran ). Should we not preserve him ?

    August 22, 2012 at 5:28 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      CNN and Fox are propaganda tools. But they are not even American: they are used on American people which is different altogether!
      Mass media has been a very effective and valuable tool for the last 60 or so years for running America. It just applies the pressure on American politicians they simply cannot resist! So what America does now is very rarely in the best interest of American people and not even the American 1%: you are manipulated by those who own and control all mass media and bend to their will.
      So no: it is not independent. It belongs to whoever owns it. And I do not think that it is such a good business investment. Unless you are looking for something else but profit, something like power...
      So do not be surprised if you cannot see any common sense in what they push you to do: you are looking from totally wrong angle. There is plenty of common sense their but it is all about somebody else's interest, not the American one.
      I know it sounds like regular conspiracy theory. But this one is based on Occam's Razor principle: it explains so much with zero assumptions required, only known facts!

      August 22, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
  12. KeyserSoze

    Propaganda won't save his butt. Longer term, unemployment, a broken infrastructure and a bankrupt country will seal the fate of his regime. Economic forces always speak louder.

    Every day this conflict drags on Syria is losing millions of dollars due to lack of productivity, tourism, trade, services, depreciation and deterioration. Not to mention the cost of the war itself. This was already a country under economic pressure now it will be a lost generation for Syria youth.

    August 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  13. ingham

    The media war that developped around the syrian crisis was highly backed by internet filtering. Western Qatari and Saoudi media who were systematically and constantly accusing the Syrian regime of all the evils , where favoured by internet search engins. because of the power of their Internet Server, but also because of the control western media have on internet switches domain name servers and filters.
    Nonetheless, because of the importance of the lies these media were diffusing and the evidence of their confusion the truth about the real motives and the origin of the financial military and logistic support the insurgensy is having are now clear to everybody.

    August 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
    • me in Angola


      August 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  14. tony

    99% of atrocities in syria is committted by the Alawite and their collaborators, Their propaganda is their fantasy. The whole world realize this murderous thugs and Alawite nousari family mafia. Stupid alawaite sect supporting assad and diging their own grave by their own hands will eventually end in the same way. No person in his right mind will do this to his country. Apparently Alawite do not feel that way at all. The only place that can accommodate them if they survive is iran or israel.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Rick Cain

      I'm guessing you're a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist that is angry at Assad's secular regime that accepts all religions. You want to purge the country of Christians and Shia and set up Sharia Law.

      August 24, 2012 at 6:09 am | Reply
  15. Jose Saltos

    USA, must not play the world police and ougth to stay away from Syria, the Arabs have being fighting againts each
    other for centuries, even before the USA became a Country and most of the time the result of a new government
    is worse than the old one, I believe this is only a Syrian matter, so, no foreing country must intevene on this problem.
    Just to mention one example of the many wher foreing countries had intervened, Afganistan. nothing has been acomplished.
    after so many deaths.

    August 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  16. desert voice/troubledgoodangel

    What do you mean "let the things in Syria take their course?" I sense that you want Assad to kill out all the opposition to his rule! You want the Pol Pat solution, do you? His "free hand" as leader resulted in 25 percent of the Cambodian population annihilated! That was the cost of letting that leader a free hand to act! On the contrary, if Assad really loves his country, he should announce a transition government right now!

    August 22, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      While we're on the subject of Cambodia desertvoice/...., the reason Vietnam invaded that country in 1979 is because of all the killings perpetrated by the Pol Pot regime. This is just one more thing that the right-wing news media never talks about. They want us to think that one has nothing to do with the other! Even a complete idiot should know better!

      August 23, 2012 at 2:00 am | Reply
    • Rick Cain

      The USA supported Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge as a way of opposing the Vietnamese government. We always pick the wrong side.

      August 24, 2012 at 6:08 am | Reply
      • Carbonscam

        Your country USA is owned and Run by the Zionist -Brits! Ref-eustace mullins. The best researcher in the world.

        January 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  17. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecilic jerk. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  18. Rick Cain

    The Syrian government is the only legitimate government, why wouldn't it rally people to its defense. On the other side you have a motley bunch of islamic foreign fighters, paid mercenaries, syrian sunnis who bristle at the secular government, and of course an army of western propagandists and CIA intelligence agents helping funnel arms and equipment to these terrorists.

    August 24, 2012 at 6:07 am | Reply
  19. me in Angola


    August 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
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    October 9, 2012 at 5:21 am | Reply
  21. 3mar

    well the army is winning the war it seems. the rebels, they are jihadists of course , are continuing to suicide bomb villages and army positions all over the nation. which i think has forced to UN to investigate the massacre that the rebels are doing to the minorities, especially because they mass murdered a lot of Christians in Homz. in terms of the propaganda media, i think the revolution is winning. but if they cant win the fight then there Islamic cause is dead.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  22. bloggersloveblogs

    Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s website opens with pictures of him appearing gracious, kind, his arms outstretched to his countrymen, with the phrase “The President of Just and Comprehensive Peace, in Bashar Al Assad We TRUST,” appearing underneath. It’s hard to believe there is any truth to the image, as Al Assad is now responsible for the deaths of up to 90,000 Syrians, and counting. Similarly, this AFP photo of him waving at crowds, accompanied by children, gives the illusion that he’s not capable of harming, never mind ordering the murder of thousands of Syrian kids.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:59 am | Reply

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