CBS News Correspondent Clarissa Ward On The Challenges Of Reporting From Syria

By Alex Weprin Comment

Last week CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward found herself sneaking out of Syria. The weather wasn’t helping.

“We had a tough crossing because it had been raining all week, the ground was literally just mud, and we were wading through canals and trudging through this mud in the middle of the night,” Ward told TVNewser.

The crisis in Syria continues to escalate, but the government there has been clamping down on journalists, forcing any western news organizations to sneak into the country in order to report on it. The journey into the country is almost as dangerous as the situation itself.

“There are several ways to do it, and several borders to do it through,” Ward recalls. “We went in through Turkey, we were relying heavily on a network of activists willing to risk their lives to make sure that their story gets out there to the world. We actually went in across the border with smugglers, it is a dangerous undertaking.”

The government has opted not to grant any journalism visas, keeping most foreign reporters out. Only those willing to take serious and very real risks are sneaking in. Yesterday the New York Times announced that one of its star reporters, Anthony Shadid, passed away in Syria. Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack. Due to the underground nature of reporting there, quality medical care–or often any medical care–is not easily accessible.

“The Assad regime has been very calculated and cynical in refusing to grant visas to journalists to report independently from inside the country, because they are aware of the fact that if there isn’t information coming out, and if there aren’t impartial observers, journalists on the ground getting information out about many of the atrocities, they will go undocumented,” Ward says. “Journalists will have a very tough time covering the story because they will be relying so much on second or even third hand information.”

The regime briefly granted journalism visas earlier this year, but as Ward notes, any journalists in the country at the time were not getting an accurate picture of the situation there.

“Even when they do hand out journalism visas, you have to take into account that you have at least one minder if not more, who is sponsored and paid by the government, whose only job is to follow you everywhere, to try to limit the scope of your reporting,” she says. “When they were handing out those visas, it rather conveniently coincided with the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria. The minute that observer mission was over, they basically stopped granting those journalism visas.”

Ward noted that in addition to the journalistic challenges of reporting from the country, there are technological challenges as well. Her crew was equipped with BGANs, and preferred to use small, hand-held cameras rather than larger gear.

“The minute you pull out a camera, you become much more noticeable, you inevitably become the story, rather than cover the story,” Ward says.

The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. yesterday the U.N. passed a resolution recommending that President Assad step aside. While news organizations can (and do) cover the story from nearby nations, the most powerful stories come from inside Syria itself, as the reports by Ward and other correspondents like CNN’s Nic Robertson and Arwa Damon prove.

“It is not for everyone, but more and more journalists are doing it, because there is a recognition across the field that this situation has become so alarming and the lack of reporting on it has become so noticeable that people are really willing to take the risk now to go in and try to document what is going on,” Ward says.