Award recipient aims to show 'human side' of Syria war

Washington (AFP) - Zaina Erhaim, the Syrian recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, said Thursday she hopes her work can convey "the human side" of the horrific conflict.

"I'm not a war zone reporter. I wouldn't be there if it was not my home country," she said ahead of accepting the award from Reporters Without Borders, Agence France-Presse and Global Media Forum, a journalist training organization.

"I went back because I'm Syrian. I belong to that homeland."

Erhaim, who lives and works in Aleppo, Syria, has trained about 100 citizen reporters from inside Syria, approximately a third of them women, in print and TV journalism, and helped establish new, independent newspapers and magazines in the country.

The 30-year-old Erhaim is also the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international organization that supports journalists in countries undergoing conflict, crisis or transition.

Erhaim studied in London before returning to Syria to report on the conflict.

She said she has been training others because "I wanted to help my fellow citizen journalists. I feel a burden to complete what my colleagues and friends have died for. They died to make the world see what is going on."

The work of some of her students has been published in major international news outlets, but Erhaim said her goal is to help convey the human element of life in Syria.

"What I was trying to do in the last three or four years is just report on lives and not just wars or massacres," she said.

"International politicians are dehumanizing the Syrians; they have lives, they are interested in living, loving having kids."

Erhaim said working as a journalist has never been easy in Syria -- ranked 177th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders -- but that now she and others are frequent targets of both the government and the Islamic State, also knows as ISIS.

"I'm wanted by three different security branches because I'm a journalist," she said, and in ISIS-controlled areas she must use a false identity. "I'm wanted by them too."

She said journalists can face arrest or worse simply by reporting or carrying a camera.

"Many of those I trained have been arrested by the regime, some were killed by ISIS," she said.

Erhaim is the seventh recipient of the award, named for the late Peter Mackler, a longtime AFP journalist who died in 2008.

The award is administered by Global Media Forum, the US branch of Reporters Without Borders, and Agence France-Presse to journalists who fight courageously and ethically to report the news in countries where freedom of the press is either not guaranteed or not recognized.