Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Back to Damascus - Training Syrian journalists
Training Syrian journalists when foreign correspondents had been expelled
SKILLS was a EU sponsored project in Syria for training young Syrian professionals to the new market niches that were opening us in the ongoing process (it was the beginning of 2011 and the violent civil war had not yet started) of Syrian modernization and decentralization of political control.
I had agreed with the manager of Syria to conduct a 2 weeks workshop in the section of journalism on how to cover international cooperation and intercultural dialogue. As I arrived in Damascus for starting teaching political tensions started taking an ugly turn. Suddenly the Syrian Government time cancelled all the visas to foreign journalists and asked them to leave the Country. But I had not a journalist visa. I was there as a teacher and trainer not as a journalist. So I was not asked to leave. And SKILL manager told me that I could go ahead with the training programme.
I then found myself in the strange position of teaching to Syrian journalists how to use media for dialogue in a moment while foreign journalist had been asked to leave the country. Some of my students were employed in Government media and one was working at the Minister of information. And I expected them to be very defensive of the Government activities. But they were not. They were ready to speak out. It was me who insisted to remain focused on our main topic and report only about ongoing international cooperation projects in Syria.
So with the students we covered the Quality programme and the Women Economic Empowerment programme. I wanted to cover also the NAM programme but the British manager of the programme was not cooperative any longer.
I tried to contact Francesco and other journalists in Italy and tell them that I was operational in Damascus. There were no other journalists allowed to stay there. But I was there. With my cameras. And a team of 20 professionals ready to report on the topics that I could chose. I proposed them that I collect a variety of opinions from different Syrian testimonials about what was really going on in Syria. The feedback was surprising. The main editorial line of the Italian television had been very critical of the Syrian government and very supportive of the opposition. They did not want to say something that could be controversial and could be taken as support of the argumentations of the Syrian Government. I told them that I would have never done something supportive of the Government: I just wanted to portray the complexity of the issue. The funny answer was that since the said that all foreign correspondents had been forced to leave Syria, they could not say that there is still someone in Damascus who is allowed independent reporting. Interesting, isn’t it: fact that show a complexity that is difficult to explain need to be discarded as they do not fit into the simplified editorial line.
Some EU parliamentarians demanded EU to cancel ongoing cooperation programs in Syria. I recorded a video with the opinion of my students on why such programs should continue. We uploaded that on YouTube and we mailed the link to the EU Delegation and some EU parliamentarians. The debate about continuing or not the cooperation went on for about 2 months. Then the programs like SKILLS and Quality were suspended because they involved partnership with the Syrian Government. While programs like the one Armadilla was managing with the local women Palestinian Ngo continued to receive support.
After the workshop I invited Francesco in Beirut. I wanted to be interviewed by him about what was going on in Syria. I hoped he would have used some passages of that interview in the editing of his material. But probably I still remained too far from the “editorial line” and that interview was not used by RAI. It remained there on YouTube. I do not much like myself in that interview. My face is too tired; too tense. But some of the things I said there are important. I hope I will be able to use some of those passages.
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