North Africa, West Asia

The struggle for survival – what’s next for Syrian journalism?

Media outlets, whether state-sponsored or opposition, often seek to send a specific message to a party through their articles, without complying to any kind of journalistic standards. عربي

جوان سوز
24 November 2017
AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Syrian opponents are reporting news through their own made media units via social media websites in order to reflect the violence and incidents in Syria. Aleppo, Syria, on July 23, 2012. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Most alternative media outlets in Syria that came to life after the outbreak of popular protests mid-March 2011, despite their multitude, haven’t offered a more professional alternative to that of state media.

The media was controlled for decades by the mindset and ideology of Syria’s ruling party, which itself was deeply rooted in the state and society, and so refused to accept or even acknowledge the existence of the other, with only very rare exceptions.

This contributed to the exclusion of journalists and writers from the opposition from Syrian media, and led them to write for Lebanese and Gulf newspapers. Some even resorted to using aliases in these newspapers for fear of arrest and harassment by security forces.

Furthermore, the presence of non-governmental newspapers belonging to left-wing parties is almost unheard of, and some of the local Kurdish newspapers were banned by state security with very limited distribution.

For example, Al-Hawar Magazine has been published by the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria since the 1990s, in addition to other Kurdish newspapers and magazines by banned Kurdish parties.

It is unfair to generalise in stating that all alternative media failed: some outlets succeeded while others didn't; but they did play an overall important role despite their often-limited capabilities in light of the state-imposed media blackout: these media sources presented a different perspective to the Syrian authorities' narrative, and they were, to some extent, able to show a part of what was happening in the country during that time.

Sadly, most of the written content published by these media sources today appears to be closer to that of the state media in terms of form and quality, and often they rely in their articles on unidentified news sources for their information, in addition to often containing offensive and derogatory statements against specific Syrian entities.

This means that such outlets, whether state-sponsored or opposition, often seek to send a specific message to a party through their articles, without complying to any journalistic standards that would supposedly force them to respect their profession.

Although Syrian alternative media emerged independently and outside the parameters of professional journalism, these outlets now fall under the authority of their Arab and foreign donors, which in one way or another impose their conditions for publication based on their political interests. As a result, few of these outlets function with a high level of professionalism despite their potential capabilities.

Thus, if any media outlet publishes a news story based on lies or rumours propagated by a journalist or reporter to attack another party – presumably an enemy - the outlet itself doesn’t correct the false news nor alert its readers of its inaccuracy, with only very few exceptions that try hard to relay the information to their readers and to correct it when necessary.

This was evident in an article published by Anab Baladi Newspaper on the formation of a battalion of homosexuals fighting in the ranks of the Syria Democratic forces. The newspaper then published a statement by the forces denying such accusations, which is effectively the only way to gain readers that trust this media, even though some of these outlets are ruled by their financers’ policy rather than editorial policy.

Such donors didn’t stop at making the media outlets biased towards or against certain political or military entities; they also contributed in some cases to the outlets’ use of unqualified journalists rather than professionals, who could have influenced these outlets.

While this does not negate the heavy influence of the past several decades in which the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party tightened its security grip on the media, Syrians have nonetheless been waiting and continue to wait for the media to be free of such disappointing influences.

Finally, it must be said that any Syrian citizen or journalist has the right to report news unfolding before them via alternative media platforms, seeing as the Syrian state regularly refuses entry to journalists and media outlets into Syrian cities under military attack.

However, it’s difficult for this citizen to transform into a professional journalist when working in institutions that fall under their donor’s authority and political agenda, without any adherence to professional journalistic work standards.

The propagation of this mindset, which originated decades ago in Syrian state media, among those working in alternative media today, in addition to their lack of transparency, is what has led to a complete absence of professional Syrian journalism. This leads to many questions, including: what’s next for Syrian journalism?

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