By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw
Almost every nation in the Middle East has the surveillance capability rivaling that of the Five Eyes group of countries, Guardian Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov (@MartinChulov) told the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia 40th anniversary conference in Bathurst today (November 30).
“The digital dragnet is very much a tool of persecution,” he said.
He explained how the Internet and social media in the region had shifted from communication forms of change and liberation to tools of suppression.
“Regimes simply ended up doing social media better than the young activists in the region,” he said.
This presented enormous risks to journalists and their sources.
He said journalists now faced risks they had not previously when they were viewed as non-combatants.
“We can no longer afford to be naïve,” he said.
“I’ve often found myself being in a situation where you don’t have the access of your organisation and are relying on your wits.
“We have to be very careful in calculating when to push forward and when to go back.”
Chulov said propaganda issued by Middle Eastern states was also a major risk to truth-telling about the region.
“There are far too many journalists in the region – even veteran correspondents – whose work is no more than dogma,” he said.
“I’ve lost count of the number of young reporters who have told me how disillusioned they have become with journalists who were once their heroes.
“Conflict reporting is not simply about muddying the waters. We should never be afraid of fact, no matter where it may lead us.”
Source protection had become a major issue. He said one of his sources was a senior figure in Islamic State.
“There has been no digital communication at all. We have to beware of street cameras and any digital communication at all.
“Every time I do go to see him I have to wonder whether it is going to be the last time for him and potentially the last time for me.
“Of course shrouding ourselves in secrecy does nothing to dispel the notion we are not spies in the first place.
“I’m on the bad boy list but I haven’t been hit so far. But I do try to ensure not everything I try to transmit is not secure.” This avoids a detectable regime.
Journalists also faced attacks on their reputations.
“If truth be told, it sometimes works,” he said.
“All of us who have covered the region for a living have regularly woken up to Twitter feeds full of bile.”
Related: See my piece from June 22 2015 in The Conversation : How surveillance is wrecking journalist-source confidentiality
© Mark Pearson 2015
Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.