As we all know, reporting from the front lines is a difficult and dangerous job for any journalist. But many of us cannot begin to fathom the situation on the ground. Zaina Erhaim, Syrian journalist and activist, gives her personal account on covering the Syrian war as a female journalist and the challenges she had to face.
Erhaim works for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has helped numerous local reporters (mostly civilians) share their stories. Erhaim covered the Syrian war from 2011-2017. With the increase in violence, she is now currently living in Turkey and continues to report on Syria’s ongoing conflict between President Bashir Assad’s regime, ISIS, extremist militant groups and warlords.
She explains the challenges that journalist face on a daily basis: bombing raids, chemical attacks from Assad’s regime and also retaliations from militant groups. Aside from the attacks, journalists are constantly targeted and subjected to death threats and torture. Journalists are expected to be propaganda tools for either Assad’s regime, militant groups or warlords. Going against the grain will put reporters in dangerous positions.
Erhaim continues to explain the difference working as an international correspondent and a local journalist. Working for an international organization gives reporters ‘more’ freedom to cover topics without the fear of retaliation from the government. However, local journalists are constantly thinking about how the stories they publish will get them into trouble from the different groups. Unlike international correspondents, local reporters are concerned of their families who are exposed to threats, arrests, torture and kidnappings as a result of their work. As a female journalist, Erhaim expresses the strain to work in the field without the help of her husband. In certain cases, her husband would have to communicate to her interviewees because of the strict gender segregation in that particular area.
Erhaim points out the difficulty of being impartial in her work because she is reporting on her home. These are tragic events that the international media portrays on a regular basis with little to no sentiments, while she has to bare with the fact that these are the daily lives of her friends, families, colleagues and neighbors. Erhaim poses her own question: Why should I continue? She lists many reasons to why she has to continue to report on the Syrian war. She wants to take an active role in writing her country’s history from a female journalist perspective, instead of leaving it to Assad’s men. Her job lets her continue to fight for the oppressed, for freedom of speech and press. She feels the obligation to her family and friends, and if she doesn’t, then who will?
Erhaim’s last remarks are directed to the international community. The international media has to improve its coverage, rather than reporting the statistics of the war, and forgetting about the realities of the 12 million Syrians whom still in the country. She blames Assad for putting the entire country and their citizens in this situation. As for what’s next for Erhaim, she is uncertain about her fate in Turkey, but she will continue to report on her homeland.
By Irada Yeap