Sunday Times foreign editor Sean Ryan has described the British media as ‘extraordinarily brave”, following news that a British war photographer was freed after being taken hostage in Syria for a week.
Photographer John Cantlie – who has worked for the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, BBC News, The Guardian and The Sun – was taken by jihadist fighters and held at an Islamic extremist training camp before being rescued by the Free Syrian Army. He returned to London last week.
Reporters from The Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Sky and BBC are currently among those still covering events in the Middle Eastern country.
‘I think journalists covering Syria at the moment are extraordinarily brave,’Ryan said.
‘I watched Ian Pannell on the BBC this week, for instance. To be with rebels under sniper fire and reporting as coolly and calmly as he is is quite remarkable.
‘And I think reporters who are going in without visas from Turkey and Lebanon are clearly taking risks, and so I pay tribute to their courage.”
The Sunday Times has one journalist in Syria currently, Hala Jaber, a former British Press Awards foreign correspondent of the year.
‘Hala’s been there for a week and a half – before then she hadn’t been in for a few weeks,’he said.
‘We’re not a big enough operation to cover one country like Syria continuously – we just put one person in there when we have the opportunity to do so.’
Despite the killing of Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin in Syria on 22 February this year, the newspaper has continued to send journalists to cover the ongoing conflict because of its international significance.
‘It’s one of the most important stories in the world at the moment,’said Ryan.
‘The outcome in Syria will determine what happens in several other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
‘It’s important to document the rights and wrongs on both sides of the conflict so we understand what’s going on and the result of it.”
Ryan said the Syrian situation is comparable to the recent uprisings in Egypt and Libya, but sees this conflict lasting longer, meaning foreign correspondents will need to remain in the country, covering the events.
‘I don’t see any sign of imminent change in Syria,’he said. ‘I think we’re looking at that government surviving for months ahead and possibly longer.
‘We saw the rebels try to take Damascus and be crushed last week by the army. Now we’re seeing Aleppo – the largest city the rebels have taken – under heavy attack, and I think if the army wins it looks as if they’ll be there for some time.”