Ex-Syrian news anchor slams state ‘propaganda’
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Once the face of Bashar al-Assad’s evening news bulletin, Hani al-Malathi publicly resigned from Syrian state TV last week over what he calls “state-orchestrated misinformation”. He tells FRANCE 24 why he could no longer work for the Assad regime.
Former state TV anchor Hani al-Malathi officially resigned from his post last week. But he had not been seen on air since August last year after having fled to Dubai, where he remains today.
“I will not go back”, he told FRANCE 24 on Monday. “I had the feeling I was taking part in a propaganda campaign orchestrated by the regime”.
Despite his polished media presence, Al-Malathi fails to hide a troubled demeanour. He was one of the journalists who spoke of “armed insurgents” and “terrorist gangs” when protesters took to the streets last March.
Relying almost entirely on the Information Ministry, state journalists not only criminalised anti-regime protesters, but also downplayed army efforts to suppress the uprising. “The regime was desperate to convey the message that nothing was going on in the country,” al-Malathi explains.
“Both state and private media were transmitting false information, and anything that didn’t match up was portrayed as foreign meddling or a conspiracy.”
Al-Malathi says that he was not allowed to interview anybody on air who might contradict the official line.
Al-Malathi says that as a mouthpiece to the regime, state media only worsened the situation during the start of the unrest. “Our attempts to sell them a different story only added fuel to the fire,” he explains. “Instead of calming people down, we actually provoked the protesters to go further, fuelled their anger and reinforced a sense of shared hostility among the public.”
Al-Malathi speaks glumly of a decision by his own channel to devote an entire news bulletin to slamming “so-said foreign propaganda” during a particularly bloody stage of the conflict. “There would be no mention of the crackdown,” he says.
“It was as irresponsible as it was provocative to broadcast footage of cheering pro-regime rallies when on the other side of town, families of victims of the repression were burying their dead.”
Al-Malathi believes that Syrian media has lost all its credibility during the conflict. “There’s not one person left in the country who believes the state media’s version of events,” he says. “Not even the journalists themselves. The few who say they do are too scared to admit the truth.”
Al-Malathi has not returned to Syria since he fled in August and has “no plans” to do so in the near future. Until now, the regime has failed to mention his departure, but he believes his declaration last week is unlikely to go without comment.
“I am expecting some form of backlash concerning my resignation,” he shrugs. For Syrian protesters however, Malathi’s decision will make him a hero.