Syria: From a Country of Oriented-Media, to a Space of Opposing Journalism

By: Kamal Shikho – Gaziantep

For decades, Syria has been a country of oriented-media; the state, regime and intelligence services have controlled all media means, whether printed, audio or visual. This situation has changed after 2011; many private opposing newspapers, radio stations and TV channels have appeared and the media scene has changed.

Since the beginning of anti-regime demonstrations, in mid-March, 2011, and with the increasing number of protest points, the state-owned media faced the movement with silence and efforts to distort the demands of the popular uprising which spread all over the country. Based on that, female and male activists started to create news pages on social media outlets, and by time, those outlets changed into news agencies and founded newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV channels.

Publications of those pages spread like fire in dray stubble, reaching the major Arab and Western media agencies and thousands of images and videos were transmitted. The opposing media, if one can say that, played a major role in conveying the activities and protests of the peaceful movement.

The first social media page was the “Syrian Revolution against Bashar Al Assad,” which was created on Facebook on January 18, 2011, by a group of Syrian activists. The page called for the first demonstration on March 15, 2011, which, later on, became known as the Souk Al-Hamidiyah Demonstration in Damascus. The page was also the one that chose the names of Fridays and points of demonstration throughout Syria.

Then, “the Syrian people will not be humiliated” Facebook page was created just after the Souk Al-Hamidiyah Demonstration, but it has not lasted for long; it stopped by the end of 2011.

The “Local Coordination Committees (LCC)” Facebook page spread to the majority of opposing towns and cities, and its activists launched hundreds of pages for each region and city, holding the names of those regions and cities. Then the “Syrian Revolution General Commission” page was created and it also spread to most anti-regime Syrian cities.

With the emergence of news pages on the social media, news networks started to appear. They had reporters covering most events. One of these networks has been “Tal News,” which started operating at the beginning of April, 2011, but stopped after about a year. The Shaam News Network was established on July 6, 2011, and covered most Syrian areas, then, it changed into a media institution to cover hot field news.

The first printed media means was Enab Baladi newspaper, which held the motto “From the Revolution’s Vineyard.” It was established by a group of activists and journalists from the City of Darraya in Rural Damascus, among them were journalist Nabil Sharbaji, Ahmad Shhada and Muhammad Abu Al-Nour; the three lost their lives. Nabil died under torture in Saydnaya Military Prison; Ahmad and Muhammad died, while performing their duties, during the battles of Darraya, their hometown, to the south of Damascus.

Issue 0 of the magazine was issued on January 29, 2012, and then, was regularly issued every Sunday and more than 7000 copies of each issue were distributed in Northern Syria, in camps of Syrian refugees and in many major Turkish cities.

After around one year from the start of the popular uprising in Syria, Freedom Raise magazine emerged from the womb of the LCC, and Issue 0 was issued on 26/02/2012. Among the magazine’s founders were lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, who was kidnapped in Duma in the Eastern Ghuta of Rural Damascus at the end of 2013, journalist Layla Al-Safadi and the non-violent activist Osama Nassar, in cooperation with an elite of the LCC staff, who made the printing in their cities and towns.

As for the beginnings of the magazine, Layla Al-Safadi said: “the idea was born in the Skype chat rooms of the LCC and crystalized for the magazine to be a platform for democratic and emancipatory thought, a forum for rational dialogue and sharing of opinions amid the jam of breaking news and news agencies, which observed the events moment-by-moment.”

Since the beginning of 2014, the magazine became independent from the LCC and started to be printed professionally in coloured copies, distributed in Northern Syria and then in Turkish cities, as well as the camps and gatherings of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

After the publication of an article titled “Pick me up, Dad!” by writer Shawkat Gharzeddin in issue 86 of March, 2017, the magazine management decided to suspend its activity inside Syria and to stop the printed version, and  the then editor-in-chief Layla Al-Safadi and the editing manager Osama Nassar resigned.

Al-Safadi summarizes the major challenges faced by the magazine to survive: “Its difficult pursuit to maintain the magazine’s intellectual identity, contentious dream of a civil democratic state and independent emancipatory orientation within the direct confrontation with the regime’s security, on the one hand, and the Islamic factions in control of different Syrian areas, on the other.” She says, adding that the magazine “is printed and distributed to the people inside. It has suffered from different levels of censorships and has been confiscated many times at checkpoints; thousands of copies thereof have been burned by extreme religious forces.”

Since 2014, many opposing media means have appeared, including newspapers, magazines, periodicals, FM radio stations, Internet services and TV channels.

Examples of those means include Rozana Radio, which started in the summer of 2013, Arta FM Radio, Radio Alwan, Watan F.M, Radio SouriaLy, Liwan Radio and Sout Raya Radio, which stopped due to lack of funding.

The distribution and publishing of Tamaddon newspaper started at the beginning of 2014. In an interview with SyriaUntold, the editing secretary Diab Serrih said: “we rose from the revolution’s womb, completely aligned with it, but objectively and professionally, trying to convey the truth as it is with no exaggeration or distortion.”

“We,” adds Serrih, “try to be the real alternative of the regime’s media, which the Syrian masses described as ‘lying’ during the demonstrations. We also try to confront the media of the takfiri groups, which took the country back to the middle ages.”

The printed periodicals included: Sadas Al-Sham, All Syrian, Souriatna, Saiedt Souria and Suwar magazine, which was established on August 15, 2013.

Suwar editor-in-chief, Kamal Oskan said: “Observing the media reality in Syria, we realized that there was lack of in-depth investigations and that most alternative media bodies were somehow news ones, focusing on the news of battlefields with no investigations into the effects of war on the lives of civilians and the changes occurring in most sectors of life such as education, health and economy.”

Suwar magazine is a monthly one, for that, continues Oskan, “We have time to focus on specific and professional materials dealing with long-lasting issues and phenomena.”

Also, private news agencies were established, such as SMART News Agency, Qasioun News Agency and ANA Press. The number of opposing media outlets amounted in 2014 to 370, most of which stopped, either due to lack of funding or due to internal disagreements caused by managerial and financial corruption.

Despite the calamities and setbacks that Syrians live with daily, in a country that war has been tearing since six years; a war whose fires have touched most opposing cities and towns, and may be because of these calamities, the role of the opposing media emerges as the one that can take the initiative to not forget the sufferings of the displaced persons and war victims when the hot field and political events come to an end. This can be done through the humanitarian stories, conveying their sufferings and shedding light on the Syrians’ general condition.

This article is published as part of the campaign launched on World Press Freedom Day, 2017, in cooperation with Syria Untold.
(The main photo: Distribution of Issue 8 of Enab Baladi in Aleppo countryside on 14/09/2013. Source: Official page of Enab Baladi on Facebook. It is used according to the fair use. All rights are reserved to Enab Baladi)