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Published on October 18th, 2012 | by Louisa Tratalos
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] Bashar al-Assad By Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]   No one had seen or made contact with Austin Tice since August 13th 2012. The freelance journalist from the US disappeared in Syria just before he travelled to Lebanon to meet with friends.  Almost two months later, a video emerged on a pro-regime website (and later on YouTube) featuring a blind-folded, bearded hostage that, confirmed by his parents, is Austin Tice. He is forced from a vehicle it seems by ‘jihadis’ dressed in freshly pressed Afghan dress never seen before among Syrian rebels. Speculation has arisen as to whether this video has been faked by the Syrian government based upon inconsistencies in comparable hostage videos in addition to the strength of vested interest Assad has in manipulating the approach of foreign governments to the so-called ‘armed gangs’ of the opposition. Violence in Syria has escalated further in recent months as Assad’s regime continue to mass slaughter civilians whilst flirting with peace plans and marching ruthlessly around an internationally proposed ceasefire. The Syrian military bombing of Turkey occurred within a week of Tice’s video being released, spitting burning oil into the face of foreign governments from the pan of a cruel civil war.  If Tice’s captivity is a manipulative framing of the opposition – the desperate measures of a shattered regime - then Assad is risking an increase in the fury felt by an already angered international body of witnesses. The video portrays Austin Tice being led by armed and unidentifiable Islamists up a hillside, while he chants “Allahu al-Akbar,” or “God is great.” But what can be confirmed of the legitimacy of the film? Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, video has played a crucial role in the Eastern revolution. Testimony of those who would previously go unheard can now be broadcast – YouTube serves as a platform upon which these individual voices and tales of horror can be amplified. Social networking sites, new media and modern technology allow information to be shared on a phenomenal scale – take twitter on which there are more than 140 million active users — and today we see 340 million Tweets a day. That’s more than 1 billion every 3 days. In addition to all the benefits which arise with modern technology and amateur video, negotiating levels of truth often becomes problematic. In one section of the guide titled ‘How to: use social media in newsgathering’ on journalism.co.uk, the journalist is advised on how to verify sources. Malachy Browne advises, "It's really important to look at the sources that are providing information, examine their digital footprint, see where they have been, who they interact with." During the past year, many Syrians have found means by which they are able to validate the claims of their video and provide counter-proof to the government’s official statements. For example this video of mass abuse in Syria is one of the countless attempts of civilians to deny the claims of the government that much of the material uploaded to the Internet from Syria has not in fact been filmed there, but in other countries such as Iraq and Libya. The first half of the film shows the humiliation of civilians in a suburb in Syria. The text ‘where did this action take place???’ appears on screen. To prove the location of this footage, the witness returns to the place of the event and films the surroundings which include signs exposing its exact location. A man who is seen being beaten in the first part of the video is later shown on camera holding his identification card up in order to prove he is Syrian and that we are seeing him in his home surroundings. Pointers to landmarks such as a specific blue door are used to assist the viewer in recognising that the two places are the same; and therefore, the footage was made in Syria. Within the media, much doubt has arisen regarding the authenticity of the video of Tice and the apparent responsibility of, in Assad’s words, ‘terrorists’. Those of the opposition to the Syrian government being identified as Tice’s captors seems unlikely considering his final tweet describes having an enjoyable birthday pool party with the Free Syrian Army - far from the fear we see while watching his utterance  ‘oh Jesus’ repeatedly. It is also unclear what the video is asking of its viewer, no other faces displayed other than Tice’s and overall it lacks the customary form and polish of jihadist videos. Certainly, displaying the degradation of the victim is one method by which perpetrators of captivity can tune into the desired effect upon their viewer. Tice acts as a symbol of an international society – not only is he being held as a Western, foreign individual he represents an attack on a much wider – global - scale. At the exhibition for ‘A Year in Journalism and Conflict’ the importance of new media and video in the Arab Spring was celebrated, “on our screens we witnessed the brutal cost of uprising, the pain of rebellion and the joy of victory…From Sharp HD images to grainy mobile phone footage it was video that provided the defining moments of the year” (FRONTLINE: A Year of Journalism and Conflict – exhibition handout, 2011). Silence under a repression is difficult to sustain within the Twenty-first Century thanks to the introduction of widespread video recording equipment which is able to expose the cruelty suffered worldwide but we must also acknowledge how it is used for other means. This video is used as a weapon against the foreign body’s presence on Syrian ground, a punishment to journalists and those who report on the conflict within the Middle East and a warning to those international governments who place pressure on the Assad regime to end the conflict. Video not only serves as a means by which testimony can be accessed on an international scale – as a record of violence, it also is a tool used in the hands of perpetrators.

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An unlikely hostage video with no end in sight for Syrian conflict

Bashar al-Assad By Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom via Wikimedia Commons

 

No one had seen or made contact with Austin Tice since August 13th 2012. The freelance journalist from the US disappeared in Syria just before he travelled to Lebanon to meet with friends.  Almost two months later, a video emerged on a pro-regime website (and later on YouTube) featuring a blind-folded, bearded hostage that, confirmed by his parents, is Austin Tice. He is forced from a vehicle it seems by ‘jihadis’ dressed in freshly pressed Afghan dress never seen before among Syrian rebels. Speculation has arisen as to whether this video has been faked by the Syrian government based upon inconsistencies in comparable hostage videos in addition to the strength of vested interest Assad has in manipulating the approach of foreign governments to the so-called ‘armed gangs’ of the opposition. Violence in Syria has escalated further in recent months as Assad’s regime continue to mass slaughter civilians whilst flirting with peace plans and marching ruthlessly around an internationally proposed ceasefire. The Syrian military bombing of Turkey occurred within a week of Tice’s video being released, spitting burning oil into the face of foreign governments from the pan of a cruel civil war.  If Tice’s captivity is a manipulative framing of the opposition – the desperate measures of a shattered regime – then Assad is risking an increase in the fury felt by an already angered international body of witnesses.

The video portrays Austin Tice being led by armed and unidentifiable Islamists up a hillside, while he chants “Allahu al-Akbar,” or “God is great.” But what can be confirmed of the legitimacy of the film? Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, video has played a crucial role in the Eastern revolution. Testimony of those who would previously go unheard can now be broadcast – YouTube serves as a platform upon which these individual voices and tales of horror can be amplified. Social networking sites, new media and modern technology allow information to be shared on a phenomenal scale – take twitter on which there are more than 140 million active users — and today we see 340 million Tweets a day. That’s more than 1 billion every 3 days. In addition to all the benefits which arise with modern technology and amateur video, negotiating levels of truth often becomes problematic. In one section of the guide titled ‘How to: use social media in newsgathering’ on journalism.co.uk, the journalist is advised on how to verify sources. Malachy Browne advises, “It’s really important to look at the sources that are providing information, examine their digital footprint, see where they have been, who they interact with.” During the past year, many Syrians have found means by which they are able to validate the claims of their video and provide counter-proof to the government’s official statements. For example this video of mass abuse in Syria is one of the countless attempts of civilians to deny the claims of the government that much of the material uploaded to the Internet from Syria has not in fact been filmed there, but in other countries such as Iraq and Libya. The first half of the film shows the humiliation of civilians in a suburb in Syria. The text ‘where did this action take place???’ appears on screen. To prove the location of this footage, the witness returns to the place of the event and films the surroundings which include signs exposing its exact location. A man who is seen being beaten in the first part of the video is later shown on camera holding his identification card up in order to prove he is Syrian and that we are seeing him in his home surroundings. Pointers to landmarks such as a specific blue door are used to assist the viewer in recognising that the two places are the same; and therefore, the footage was made in Syria.

Within the media, much doubt has arisen regarding the authenticity of the video of Tice and the apparent responsibility of, in Assad’s words, ‘terrorists’. Those of the opposition to the Syrian government being identified as Tice’s captors seems unlikely considering his final tweet describes having an enjoyable birthday pool party with the Free Syrian Army – far from the fear we see while watching his utterance  ‘oh Jesus’ repeatedly. It is also unclear what the video is asking of its viewer, no other faces displayed other than Tice’s and overall it lacks the customary form and polish of jihadist videos. Certainly, displaying the degradation of the victim is one method by which perpetrators of captivity can tune into the desired effect upon their viewer. Tice acts as a symbol of an international society – not only is he being held as a Western, foreign individual he represents an attack on a much wider – global – scale.

At the exhibition for ‘A Year in Journalism and Conflict’ the importance of new media and video in the Arab Spring was celebrated, “on our screens we witnessed the brutal cost of uprising, the pain of rebellion and the joy of victory…From Sharp HD images to grainy mobile phone footage it was video that provided the defining moments of the year” (FRONTLINE: A Year of Journalism and Conflict – exhibition handout, 2011). Silence under a repression is difficult to sustain within the Twenty-first Century thanks to the introduction of widespread video recording equipment which is able to expose the cruelty suffered worldwide but we must also acknowledge how it is used for other means. This video is used as a weapon against the foreign body’s presence on Syrian ground, a punishment to journalists and those who report on the conflict within the Middle East and a warning to those international governments who place pressure on the Assad regime to end the conflict. Video not only serves as a means by which testimony can be accessed on an international scale – as a record of violence, it also is a tool used in the hands of perpetrators.

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About the Author

Louisa Tratalos

Louisa Tratalos graduated in Visual Culture from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her interests lie in human rights and environmental issues, with a specific current focus on the Syrian conflict. She appreciates the importance of online digital content especially as a political tool for young people. She aims to follow a career in documentary film-making and the production of videos which can serve as campaign vehicles.



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