Robert Mackey: Since your
impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly
different from those of many foreign reporters who have worked there
recently, I wanted to ask you about how you found your sources and what
you think accounts for the different picture painted of the conflict by
Lizzie Phelan: First of all I hope that you will give me the
opportunity to answer all of your questions in full, so that the context
which is always lacking can be provided.
I also hope that you will ask
all the questions that you proposed when I agreed to do this interview.
If not I will myself publish the full questions and my full answers.
This question is flawed, because what you really mean is that my
impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly
different from those reporters from the NATO and GCC countries which
have a vested interest in destabilizing Syria.
Of course my impressions
are actually shared by the majority people of this world, from those
countries outside of NATO and the GCC and particularly those which are
victims of these powers. But because they do not own a powerful media
their voices are drowned out by the impressions of the minority
reflected in the mainstream media of the NATO and GCC countries.
So in relation to my sources, I find my sources through a number of
different means, but my main means is I talk to ordinary people every
where I go and in Syria this is not difficult because people are really
keen to speak about the crisis in their country, especially to
foreigners who they feel strongly have a false impression about their
country and current events.
This was overwhelmingly, but of course not
exclusively, the point of view that I encountered. And this is reflected
in my reporting.
In fact, like in Libya, I was so overwhelmed by the volume of people
that wanted to talk about their anger at the fabrications in the media
of the NATO and GCC countries that my colleague Mostafa Afzalzadeh and I
decided to make a documentary so that we could reflect what ordinary
Syrian people are really saying.
This documentary will actually expose
how if it was not for such media the crisis in Syria would have been
over before it started and the people of Syria would be living in peace
The difference with journalists from
mainstream media in NATO and GCC
countries is that they come with an agenda, and that agenda is to cover
what they call is a “revolution” happening inside Syria and to give
substance to the false claims that the Syrian government is a threat to
the Syrian people.
So if for example they walk down the street and they
have 10 people telling them there is no revolution happening in Syria
and actually the people want the army to protect them from the
terrorists that are flooding the country, and then they have one person
who tells them that there is no democracy in Syria, they will discard
the 10 as government spies and run with the one person who said
something different, I witnessed this myself.
If they were to do the reverse and reflect the majority view on the
street, then this would undermine the coverage of their media
organizations over the previous 10 months that have painted a picture of
a government hated by its people, and in turn it would undermine their
own credibility as journalists working for those organizations.
But in time they will not be able to suppress the truth.
Libya the danger is that the truth only comes out when it is too late,
when a country has been successfully destroyed by the NATO and GCC
countries, with the vital help of their media. Then the western media
can afford to be more honest, although never entirely, because the aims,
for example of regime change, of their paymasters have been achieved.
I on the other hand am not concerned about towing a line in order to
“make it” as a journalist working for one of the world’s most respected
media organizations, I became a journalist in order to reflect the truth
at whatever cost that may come.
The only thing I am loyal to is my
RM: Since you have appeared on Press TV and Russia Today, as well as
Syria state television, do you have any concern that you might seem to
be endorsing the governments that finance those channels, or do you see
your role more as that of an activist, opposing the policies of the US
and UK, than as a neutral reporter?
LP: This question in itself is a very deceitful and loaded question,
and it is taken out of all context.
It implies that BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera
etc. and the journalists who work for those organizations are independent
from their financiers.
If I worked for BBC does that mean that I am
endorsing the British government which funds it and that government’s
centuries long and present abuses across the world?
Why is the NYT concerned about my work for Russia Today and Press TV?
challenge you to find me specific examples of journalists that work for
these organizations that have engaged in bad journalistic practice.
are you not concerned about journalists who work for Al Jazeera that is
funded by and reflects the foreign policy of the Qatari emir and royal
family. Al Jazeera has been proven many times over in the past few
months to have published false reports about events in the region, not
How can their journalists be neutral when their employer hosts the
largest US military base in the region, and has been responsible for
sending thousands of fighters, weapons and a lot of money to kill and
destroy in Libya and is now doing the same in Syria in addition to
having called for Arab troops to invade the country.
Likewise, I have
yet to hear the NYT question the “neutrality” of journalists who work
with the British state funded BBC, or journalists who work for the
Murdoch Press which is well documented to have strong connections with
all the major western powers which are responsible for the greatest
violations of international law.
So the question should start from the premise that no news organizations
are neutral, and each represent a certain ideology.
So if you ask me if
I feel more at peace working for news channels which reflect the
ideology of states that are defending themselves from constant attack by
the west, that is an ideology that opposes foreign interference in their
affairs and promotes their own independence, or would I feel more
comfortable working for media organizations that reflect the arrogant
ideology that western civilization is superior and should be imposed
across the world by any means necessary, then I think any person with
the slightest understanding of global politics and at least recent
history would say the former.
An additional deception in this question is that there is such a thing
as neutrality and that journalists are able to separate their own
beliefs in what they choose to cover and how they cover it, or indeed
the pretence that journalists do not hold an opinion.
As I said, I am not concerned about others perceptions of these things,
because anyone who perceives that because I have worked for Russia Today
or Press TV it means that I am in someone’s pocket, whereas if I was
working for a western organization I would be “neutral,” is deceiving
themselves and choosing to look at a tiny portion of a whole picture.
Incidentally, when I was stuck in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli with those
35 other journalists, one of the days, two American journalists rushed
into the hotel and swiftly exited when they realized that the hotel was
being defended by Gaddafi supporters.
Actually one of the two in
particular was worried about the Gaddafi supporters harming him, but
they requested that they just leave. Why was he so worried? Because he
said he was related to somebody senior in
the NTC no less.
I have never
seen his neutrality being called into question by
the mainstream media.
Finally, what is an activist? If it means that the role you play has the
effect of agitating events, then I would say that we are all in some
shape or form activists. For anyone to think that their actions are
benign and have no repercussions, is at best naïve. This is particularly
true for all journalists, whose actions as reporters have greater
repercussions than other ordinary citizens of this world.
And this is of
course because their voice is afforded a special platform, and when you
study journalism you are taught that a reporter should act as the eyes
and ears of the general public, and thus you have greater influence than
the ordinary citizen.
So you either use that platform to promote justice and the principles of
international law which are fundamental for everyone’s well being, or
you bury your head in the sand about the responsibility that comes with
that platform and you use it to promote your own personal career or
RM: I also wanted to find out more about your reporting from Libya, and
ask how you respond to allegations that you supported the government of
All in all, I’m trying to get a better understanding of
what drives you to speak out against Western governments but apparently
lend your support to governments, like those in Iran, Russia and Syria
now, that have been accused of serious human rights abuses.
LP: Again this is another deceitful question and epitomizes the
manipulative approach of the world’s powerful media, such as newspapers
like the NYT.
Here you are asking me this question because the west’s major powers and
media criminalized Muammar Gaddafi, Iran etc. by accusing them of abusing
So you are trying to put me into this trap by saying that if I support
Muammar Gaddafi, and Iran I also support abuses against human rights.
But first of all this question of human rights is an absolute fallacy
and is at present the number one stick used to bash leaders of
independent developing countries in order to provide a moral
justification for the imposition of the western system upon those
Dan Glazebrook did an
interview on Russia Today last week
following the decision by Doctors Without Borders to stop their work in
Libya in despair at the appalling torture against tens of thousands of
pro-Gaddafi Libyans by those rebels who have been cheered on for the
past year by the western media.
He reminded the public that according to HRW reports from the past 5 years, there were three possible cases of
deaths in custody in Libya over 5 years, which is really exemplary, but
in Britain there were 4 cases last month alone.
So I would be far more
concerned about being associated with the British government and thus
its appalling human rights record. And that is just Britain - the rest
of the NATO countries, particularly the US and also Israel and the GCC
countries fare no better.
Factually speaking Libya was a
paradise for human rights and Muammar
Gaddafi was due to receive a human rights award prior to the NATO
And of course Libya had the highest standard of living in
Africa and much of the region, including a much higher standard of
living than Saudi Arabia which hardly ever is in the spotlight in the
mainstream western press.
Nonetheless, you wouldn’t dream of implying that a journalist who works
for the Sun or the Guardian in Britain, both of which take a position of
supporting one way or another the Conservative party or the Labour
Party, of supporting abuses on human rights because they work for papers
which support parties that have committed some of the greatest
injustices known to man throughout history all across the world and up
until this present day.
Injustices which far outstrip any injustices
that have occurred at the hands of any leader of a developing country.
So why the two-faces?
This is all part of the prejudice in western media
that western civilization is superior to anything else and therefore
those responsible for the injustices committed by the west need not be
held accountable, and anyone who speaks out against that should have
their name dragged through the mud.
Malcolm X famously said,
“if you are not careful, the media will have you
hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the oppressor”,
that quote rings true more than ever today most recently in the way that
the western and GCC media has covered events in Libya and Syria.
But to respond to your question directly, as I have stated, what I
support is respect for international law, and the most important
principle in international law, and one of the main stated aims for the
body that was set up to uphold international law, the now redundant UN,
is respect for the sovereignty of nations and non-interference in the
internal affairs of states.
Recent history shows that the root of the
greatest injustices known to man is the violation of these principles
and so anyone who violates these principles is a criminal and should be
treated as such, and anyone who is a victim of such violations should be
Now not only these principles, but all relevant international laws and
norms were violated in the case of Libya and the west’s treatment of
Muammar Gaddafi, and this has been well documented.
The same violations
are playing out against the Syrian government.
How is it that one can moralize about human rights, but not give a
second’s thought to the fact that a senior member of the US government,
called for the death of another head of state, Muammar
Gaddafi, just two days before he was assassinated.
I hope I don’t need
to tell you that that was entirely illegal and abhorrent.
I am wholly against such violations, just as anybody who believes in
international law and justice would be, and therefore I will support the
right of anyone to defend themselves against this violation by any means
I have been accused by some of being a mouthpiece for the Libyan
government but now the truth is coming out, we know that the essence of
the former Libyan government’s analysis has been proved correct, whilst
almost everything reported by
the mainstream Western media has been
The rebellion WAS indeed armed from the very first day of the uprising
(this was confirmed in Amnesty’s in-depth report from late last year) -
not a peaceful movement
The rebels WERE working hand in glove with Western intelligence agencies
to facilitate a NATO blitzkrieg
The NTC ARE disunited and incapable of governing the country.
The rebels DO have a racist, even genocidal, policy towards sub-Saharan
African migrants and the third of the Libyan population is dark skinned
Gaddafi’s government WERE NOT conducting aerial attacks against
protesters or mass rape (or indeed ANY rape, according to Amnesty)
There HAD NOT been 10,000 people killed in Benghazi by Gaddafi’s
government during the uprising (as the NTC claimed), but 110 (Amnesty
figures again) killed on both sides prior to NATO’s attack,
On every major issue, the Gaddafi government’s analysis and figures have
been proven far far closer to the truth than the NTC’s and the western
media’s initial and unequivocal position.
So ANY journalist telling the
truth about these issues would have "sounded like a mouthpiece of the
regime", because the government’s analysis was essentially correct, and
has now been proven correct.