May 11, 2014
Over the past three years of war, receding government control and the impulse to show the impact of battles on the ground have given rise to a wide array of anti-government news networks, media centers and independent “citizen journalists,” or “media activists.”
These new journalistic ventures face major challenges, from securing funding to avoiding crackdowns by the Syrian government and hardline opposition groups. One of the obstacles before the transformation of the Syrian opposition media lies in the process of transcending “media activism” and moving toward independent journalism in a country completely devoid it for more than four decades.
“We do not demand a high degree of professionalism from [activists],” says Ahmed Dadoosh, a 35-year-old Syrian journalist now working with Al Jazeera in Doha. Dadoosh has trained Syrian journalists in Jordan, Turkey, and inside Syria since the start of Syria’s revolution in March 2011.
“There are some who are still essentially activists with revolutionary outlets,” he tells Syria Direct’s Raneem Qubatros. “This is a huge challenge, since it affects the credibility of the revolution.”
Q: How would you describe the level of professionalism in Syrian journalism today?
We have to differentiate between media activists and journalists. First of all, media activists work on particular issues and have gotten involved in the revolution because of particular issues, whether it be establishing a democratic state, bringing down the regime or even for ethnic or ideological reasons. They use media as a tool in presenting whatever issue they are interested in.
Media activists are no different from someone bearing weapons or protesting in the streets—they write and prepare reports about their cause; we do not demand a high degree of professionalism from them, and their editing policies will be different from those of journalists. It is also impossible for a media activist to be unbiased.
There are also journalists who work on the side of the revolution, such as those with Orient television and Radio Baladna. They have stricter policies of professionalism but are not required to be objective.
However, a regular journalist, Syrian or not, is independent and cannot be biased in any way.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to media in Syria today?
First, the lack of experience. Syrian media was limited to the official regime organizations and the Media College, which did not accept anyone who was not affiliated with the regime and other powerful spheres of influence. Any Syrian journalist with experience only got that experience by working abroad, dissenting from the regime, or in the years since the beginning of the revolution, which means no more than three years.
So there are some who are still essentially activists with revolutionary outlets, and some who, over the course of those three years, reached the level of professionalism where they are effectively professional journalists working with professional revolutionary outlets.
The second challenge is that the revolution is bloody and that anyone involved in media faces serious dangers from the regime and other forces. Until now, there is a real misunderstanding about what journalistic freedom actually means, and there is a lot of oppression by both the regime and the rebel leadership. There is always some oppression in revolutions that concern democracy and freedom, as war environments never tolerate more than one opinion.
The last challenge is that there is a very little readership and it is hard to reach the target audience. Visual and audio news doesn't reach that many people inside Syria since electricity is cut or people fear that the regime is watching them.
Q: Do you think the large number of media outlets currently in Syria has a positive or negative impact?
Truthfully, I am against the huge quantity. While it is natural that there are so many voices, having all of them hurts their credibility and makes it difficult to reach the people. But we have to remember that a lot of these organizations are very local, which is important given the difficulties of reaching people; so having a local radio program or newspaper ensures that people have access to what is going on in their province or city.
Q: Are regions under siege interested in media?
Most people in these areas are focused just on their daily needs that keep them alive. People who have a bit more are targeted by both regime media as well as revolutionary media that is comprised of a lot of different voices. They end up receiving very mixed and even contradicting messages.
Q: What is the importance of alternative media in Syria today?
Journalism in the liberated areas has to be a “fourth estate.” We recognize that revolutionary and independent journalism has greatly benefited from many new freedoms during the revolution; people write news reports discussing important societal issues and presenting opinions that are not monitored by the government.
There are even pieces published that expose corruption and criticize important people who have tried to take control of the revolution for personal gain. Media also plays a role in raising awareness not only about what is going on in the news, but raising awareness about how to stay safe from disease and chemical weapons.