Geopolitics

A Nasty Media Guide To Working Under ISIS

Many local journalists fled Deir Ezzor when ISIS arrived – and the ones who stayed behind are forced to abide by the extremist group's draconian list of 11 rules.

Yasser Allawi

DEIR EZZOR — After raging battles between rebel forces and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the latter gained control of much of Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria. Local journalists documented the instability and chaos.

But then ISIS swiftly implemented new rules for journalists working in areas under their control. The new rules drove many journalists to flee either to other parts of Syria or neighboring countries.

But some chose to stay and abide by the new restrictions. Amer, a journalist in Deir Ezzor, said while it was a risk to stay and keep working, he was motivated to document events taking place in ISIS territory. He felt that someone had to stay behind to report from within, to share the news with the world.

Amer said that the new rules from the ISIS press office dictate the local media's scope of work.

"A meeting was held between independent journalists and the ISIS media staff to state how (journalistic) work will be conducted after ISIS gained control of the Deir Ezzor governorate," said Amer.

At that meeting, a list of non-negotiable conditions was issued "for those who wish to continue working in the governorate."

The conditions were formulated into 11 rules, directly issued by ISIS as follows:

1 - Correspondents must swear allegiance to the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ... they are subjects of the Islamic State and, as subjects, they are obliged to swear loyalty to their imam.

2 - Their work will be under the exclusive supervision of the ISIS media offices.

3 - Journalists can work directly with international news agencies (such as Reuters, AFP and AP), but they are to avoid all international and local satellite TV channels. They are forbidden to provide any exclusive material or have any contact (sound or image) with them in any capacity.

4 - Journalists are forbidden to work in any way with the TV channels placed on the blacklist of channels that fight against Islamic countries (such as Al-Arabiya, Al Jazeera and Orient). Violators will be held accountable.

5 - Journalists are allowed to cover events in the governorate with either written or still images without having to refer back to the ISIS media office. All published pieces and photos must carry the journalist’s and photographer’s names.

6 - Journalists are not allowed to publish any reportage (print or broadcast) without referring to the ISIS media office first.

Deir Ezzor's March 8 square, in 2005 — Photo: Heretiq

7 - Journalists may have their own social media accounts and blogs to disseminate news and pictures. However, the ISIS media office must have the addresses and name handles of these accounts and pages.

8 - Journalists must abide by the regulations when taking photos within ISIS territory and avoid filming locations or security events where taking pictures is prohibited.

9 - ISIS media offices will follow up on the work of local journalists within ISIS territory and in the state media. Any violation of the rules in place will lead to suspending the journalist from his work, and he will be held accountable.

10 - The rules are not final and are subject to change at any time depending on the circumstances and the degree of cooperation between journalists and their commitment to their brothers in the ISIS media offices.

11 - Journalists are given a license to practice their work after submitting a license request at the ISIS media office.

The meeting ended with a number of journalists agreeing to the new ISIS rules and signing circulars stating the terms of agreement. Those who didn’t agree to the terms fled the country.

Maher, a media activist, wrote on Facebook that leaving the governorate was very difficult because ISIS kept sending him messages, which fluctuated between intimidation and offering incentives to return. Some were threats of crucifixion or to arrest members of his family.

"The harassment of activists aims to push them to stop reporting on the repressive rule that ISIS is trying to impose in its areas," he said. "Because activists were exposing these practices, it quickly made them the number one enemy of ISIS, which tried to shut them down at any cost, similar to what the Assad regime did at the beginning of the revolution. It had focused on shutting them down because of the kind of work they do that exposes the crimes Assad committed against the Syrian people."

Maher equates ISIS rule to the strict censorship he faced under the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

"The regime arrested, imprisoned and tortured many in its prisons, many of whom died as a result," he said. "However, in the case of ISIS, activists are considered infidels and are sentenced to death, crucifixion and more, simply because they oppose ISIS policies. The charge against me was ready and so was the punishment.”

Maher had once been part of the civil movements in his hometown, hoping to build free and democratic institutions. Under ISIS, those hopes have been dashed. “ISIS had dissolved them all because they consider them ‘infidel institutions’ that are pro-West.”

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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