My Story: The Making of a Syrian Female Journalist

Souriatna –  Jihan Haj Bakri

I am the daughter of the land that has chosen me to be her voice. The extent of my ambition, at an age past, had been to finish my studies at the Arabic Department of Tishreen University, and to then seek a life and work opportunities. When I was a student, I would have been more than happy to promenade with friends on a school day, gathering from the morning and having conversations about each and every thing except for war. We never once considered that one day war would be part of our lives, and we would have to live alongside a bloody conflict.

That day came, and a revolution broke out. Other than my wish that we live free, and that people do what they wished and strived for, I had no elaborate reason to side with the revolution. I participated in the first wave of demonstrations, and then I left the university on my third year, for fear that I get arrested. I chose to live with my family in the liberated areas in the countryside of Latakia.

From Witnessing to Covering

I have been part of the calamity. I have lived it in full detail, witnessed daily life under war and people’s resilience in confronting it. By virtue of living on the inside, I enjoyed friendly relations with many journalists and media activists across various organizations, becoming, with time, a reliable source of news and reports, whereby I delivered information and news reports online whenever I had the opportunity.

Later, a friend of mine convinced me to work as a journalist, which I soon did. My first experience was with Sada Al-Sham newspaper, in which I had the opportunity to work as a correspondent from rural parts of Latakia where I lived since early 2013. I participated in several journalism training workshops, during which I obtained good theoretical insight into my field. From then on, I began to portray the reality around me and the conditions that were daily worsening at that time.

I then reported for the news agency Syria News Desk (SND) and Souriatna newspaper, while writing other reports and journalistic pieces for other websites and newspapers in a freelance capacity, including, Lebanon 360, and the Media Office of Revolutionary Forces. Over the course of five years, I have attended a variety of courses and training sessions in different fields of journalistic writing.

In early 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a course for journalistic trainers, then I began giving training at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, where I have trained many female activists to write news reports. It was a turning point in my life, as I moved from writing to training, which has so far been a unique experience.

The Burden of Neutrality

I have never been a war journalist. I rather conveyed war stories from the perspectives of ordinary people, notably through emphasis on women and their struggles. I always tried to adhere to the standards of credibility and balance. But like many other Syrian media activists, I struggle with the burden of having to be neutral. I had sided with the revolution at its inception, and I had to take a stand regarding the deteriorating situation in our areas, especially with continuous displacement and homelessness. The stories of simple folk and their reaction to their conditions cannot but inspire optimism and hope.

In mid-2015, I was granted an international journalism award given by the Amsterdam-based foundation Free Press Unlimited. I won the award for a number of news stories and reports I had conducted, as well as having been a female reporter living in a war zone and managing to cover a wide array of topics.

This award constituted another turning point in my life. I grew more confident in my ability and my work. I realized that neutrality, understood as honesty, is never a burden. The stories of people living and challenging the war have since become a reservoir for my work and a motivation to challenge the hardships I endure.

Support, Encouragement and My Cell Phone

My friends and colleagues have always shown me support, especially when I first started out with Sada Al-Sham, whose editors often helped me choose topics and master the craft of writing and editing. My work at SND, on the other hand, was a daily one that required constant communication with editors, who in turn gave me encouragement and comfort, as well as guidance.

I have never felt any discrimination or differential treatment. Although most of the editors I have worked with in various outlets have been male, they all had outstanding professional and personal ethics. I have had equal opportunities to work and receive training, which has improved my performance and enriched my experience. My colleagues have been the ones who are the most encouraging and supportive. Our love of our careers has always brought us together, in addition to our commitment to restoring public confidence in Syrian media as a means for change and addressing public opinion.

I have encountered several difficulties and challenges during my work, most notably the persistent shelling of our areas, the ordeal of displacement and instability, let alone the not-so-welcoming attitude regarding working women, especially in such fields as news reporting. Additionally, difficulties exacerbate in the presence of extremist factions, which in fact control most of my areas of activity. Last but not least, access to the internet and electricity, and other necessary equipment, is not always readily available.

But all these difficulties and challenges are dwarfed whenever I see people around me, especially women, rushing to talk to me and voice their concerns, viewing me as a mirror for their pain and apprehension, and feeling that they are not alone.

But the thing that has been of utmost help to me was my ever-present companion, that is, my mobile phone. While many limit its utility to entertainment and communication, my cell phone has been for over three years my reliable tool for writing, shooting photos, and communicating with editors; I have long written, sent reports and communicated news through it.

I am currently 24 years old, have been married for two and a half years, and have a daughter. My husband’s support and appreciation of my work has been the greatest motivation for me to press ahead. This work had been the medium through which we first met. My life with him, of which I am proud, has begun since I asked him for an interview.

These materials are published within the World Press Freedom Day campaign, in cooperation with the   ASML/Syria.