Growing restriction on journalists in Syria’s Kurdish northeast

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the increase in restrictions that the Kurdish authorities are imposing on journalists in northern and eastern Syria with the aim of tightening their grip on news coverage. 

“Independent journalists find it harder and harder to work because they are forced to join a government union, have pay more to register, and are denied accreditation,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The sole aim of these unjustified measures is to limit journalistic autonomy and media pluralism by means of prior control over work permits.”

RSF has been noting growing problems for journalists in the Kurdish-ruled Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) since March. To get a press card, journalists are now required by the region’s media department to be members of the pro-government Union of Free Media, although such a requirement violates the region’s media law.

The media department insists that the new rules will “support and encourage an improvement in journalistic standards.

However, journalists tell RSF that an informal corruption system has developed in which they must pay 25,000 Syrian pounds (7 dollars) to join the union and 15,000 Syrian pounds (4 dollars) to renew their accreditation. Without an official permit, journalists are unable to work and their applications remain blocked at the media office.

After months of waiting, I talked with one of the people in charge at the Union of Free Media, who clearly told me that I needed to get my union membership card,” a reporter told RSF on condition of anonymity. “I’ve been trying to cover the Turkish bombardments in the Al-Hasakah, Zerghan and Tell Tamer regions for more than a year, and my accreditation request has still not been approved.”

To prove they are journalists, applicants must be able to show that at least ten of their articles have been published. This also applies to photo-journalists. Until now, a copy of a work contract was enough. Journalists wanting to work for foreign media as fixers must be directly approved by the authorities and must pay a commission on their salary in return for this approval, several sources told RSF.

The more demanding accreditation requirements combined with the everyday problems have created a climate of mistrust and suspicion.” I’ve distanced myself from journalistic circles and no longer want to hear about it,” another journalist told RSF on condition of anonymity.

The AANES authorities suspended the Iraqi Kurdish TV channel Rudaw last February, while Kurdistan 24, another Iraqi Kurdish TV channel, has been banned from operating in the region since June 2021.

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