Tell us the truth about Syria

By John Newton and John Pontifex
NEWS agencies have misrepresented the conflict in Syria – according to a Catholic charity’s Middle East expert.
Fr Andrew Halemba, Aid to the Church in Need’s Middle East projects coordinator, said that media reports about the country should be treated critically and with great caution.
He said: “The situation in [Syria] is much more complex and difficult to assess than the media in the West make it out to be.
“Many media outlets are simply turning in sloppy reporting.
“They seem to be ignoring that there are also internal power struggles and religious tensions between the different Muslim groups, tribal feuds and acts of vengeance are a daily occurrence, and crime is rising in the country due to the unstable situation.”
Fr Halemba explained that he was in constant contact with Church sources in the country.
He said: “Some Western media reports are received there with great outrage.
“People there feel exploited and deceived by international media. They complain that the West is only pursuing its own interests.”
He said a Church source in the country, which could not be named because of fears about safety, said that images were being manipulated.
Fr Halemba said the Church representative had told ACN: “We are witnesses to vulgar falsehoods that brazenly and shamelessly inflate a small demonstration involving around 50 people into a major demonstration with hundreds or even thousands of persons.
“The photos are patched together from different pieces using image processing software in studios created especially for this purpose.”
Al Jazeera has been accused of faking images used in their news reports to increase the size of a crowd.
Critics maintain that in one image the same people appear in the photo several times.
Fr Halemba’s reference to allegations of media misuse of images come after photographer Marco di Lauro accused the BBC of using one of his pictures from Iraq in 2003 to show the situation in Syria this year.
While acknowledging that the image could not be independently verified, the BBC said the image purported to show children killed in the May 2012 massacre in Houla.
Mr di Lauro said the photograph was taken in Iraq at the time of the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein.
The BBC later apologised and removed the image upon learning of the error.
Fr Halemba stressed that Aid to the Church in Need’s task was to provide practical support to Christians in need, rather than intervene in political matters.
The charity is providing more than £103,000 (€130,000) in emergency aid, primarily for Christian families in need. This includes just under £40,000 (€50,000) for those trapped in the old city of Homs.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.