The story about government forces killing 80 civilians in Eastern Aleppo could be true but is completely unsupported by any evidence, even circumstantial.
Both the Assad regime and the rebels, naturally, spend much money and effort on PR but with this difference. The rebels' PR is repeated in the Western press as objective testimony from 'non-combatant activists', while Western journalists who repeat the story the Syrian government wants to get out, like the utterly unnuanced Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, are vilified as Lord Haw Haws.
Both young women were previously in Gaza. Eva Bartlett reported from there a story that Hamas approved. Had she been critical of Hamas, she would have had to sling her hook sharpish. I am not sure if Vanessa Beeley wrote about Gaza or not. Now they take Assad's side as previously they took Hamas's.
The Syrian civil war became a long time ago part of the conflict between Israel and the Shia states against Iran and Russia. Pro and anti-Israel attitudes colour many people's view of Syria.
Still both ladies appear to be independent and truthful in the narrow sense that they believe that they are telling the true story. Their story should be heard.
Actually, most journalism is repeating the story of someone who has his own agenda. This applies, as we have seen, even to crime stories released by the British police.
Funnily enough, I found myself in a bar in Beirut in October 2014 being stood a drink by a nice Syrian who told me he was a communications specialist who had been hired by Bashir Assad.
'Have you met Assad?' 'Yes, many times, in small meetings. He is 'zero, useless, completely useless, a really poor quality person". His [British born and educated] wife, "a complete bitch, a horrible person, is much smarter". I suggested that Assad is merely a front man for the gang in power and he agreed.
Patrick Cockburn, Claud Cockburn’s very left-wing son, is a respected journalist and almost the one man I trust on the Middle East. He speaks common sense in an article in today's Independent, a paper that has repeated uncritically the rebel line on Aleppo.
"It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.
There is nothing wrong or surprising about the Syrian opposition demonising its enemies and hiding negative news about itself. The Iraqi opposition did the same thing in 2003 and the Libyan opposition in 2011. What is much more culpable is the way in which the Western media has allowed itself to become a conduit for propaganda for one side in this savage conflict. They have done so by rebranding it as authentic partisan information they cannot check, produced by people living under the authority of jihadi movements that tortures or kills any critic or dissenter."2016 has been a very bad year for the mainstream Western media. Those who complain about post-truth politics are usually themselves inaccurate and the dreaded fact-checkers should be rigorously fact-checked.
Part of the reason is that media budgets are so tight and they have fewer journalists. Part of the reason is the internet, bloggers and social media. Part of the reason is bias. Not bias towards the left or right so much as bias towards high-mindedness and received ideas.
The war by the press against Donald Trump helped him to win. The obviously biassed coverage of Syria will rebound on the heads of those who write it. Readers are not stupid.