In this country, at war for more than a decade, reporters are denied access to entire swaths of the territory. The regime treats the media as a tool for disseminating Baathist ideology and excludes any form of pluralism, driving many journalists into self-imposed exile.
State radio, TV and print media outlets just relay the government’s propaganda, which they take from the all-powerful SANA news agency. Other media outlets use Facebook and social media as their main tool of content distribution because they are difficult to control, even though they are monitored. A third of independent or opposition media outlets, such as Enab Baladi, are now based abroad.
Bashar al-Assad and the Baath Party control most of the Syrian media. But the 2011 revolution split the media landscape into two camps – pro-government and independent. During the initial anti-government protests, the government banned international media outlets and freelancers from entering the country. A lack of training and financial independence forced many Syrian journalists to remain under the government’s political tutelage.
The 2021 cybercrime law, amended in 2022, allows the authorities to prosecute journalists on a charge of “spreading false news online that damages the prestige of the nation”. The government had already used the 2011 media law to tighten its grip on the news media. The 1965 law of protection against the revolution, the 2012 terrorism law and the penal code as a whole also all threaten press freedom.
While most Syrian media are funded by the government or by persons close to the government, the economic sanctions placed on Syria are hitting the broadcasting sector as much as other parts of society. Reporters find themselves without a job if they fail to obtain accreditation. As for exile media, their continued funding is thanks to the perseverance of journalists who want to continue reporting on the situation in Syria in complete freedom.
Syrian society’s polarisation in this war has affected the media to such an extent that some journalists define themselves as “media activists”. Their personal pages on social media serve as media outlets in their own right and provide a way to follow reality on the ground. Each camp has its own codes, terminologies and favourite subjects.
What with the risks of arrest, abduction, torture or murder, Syrian journalists are often forced to flee the country to escape mistreatment or death. Several who had found refuge in Turkey were forced to return in 2019. Hundreds of others were threatened with the same fate, which would have exposed them to arrest by the Syrian authorities or to abuses at the hands of various armed groups if the Turkish authorities had not finally given up on this measure.