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Parallel Universe of Syria's Pro-Assad Media

  • Elizabeth Arrott/Japhet Weeks

For much of the world, the war in Syria is seen through videos and voices of activists and citizens who tell of government attacks on residential areas and the crushing of a defiant opposition trying to oust an autocratic leader.

But listen to pro-government media and it is an alternate universe, in which the army is friend, not foe.

In the opening to an al-Ekhbaria TV report, heroic music plays as a soldier guides a little girl across a busy road, earning a kiss for his efforts. It's the kind of bombast that brings into question the credibility of those who work for it.

But al-Ekhbaria reporter Yara Saleh said she deals in facts, not propaganda.

“I ask one question," she said. "Is this story true 100 percent? 50 percent? 10 percent? I ask, because as a reporter I have to ask.”

Media targeted

But Saleh doesn't just report the news.

In August, she became news herself. Saleh and her crew were captured by foreign-led fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Her cameraman's assistant was killed in the incident, she said.

“I told them to take me and let him go," Saleh said. "But they did not. I said your problem is with me. I'm the journalist. I'm the one who's talking, who's speaking against you.”

It is not the first time al-Ekhbaria was targeted. Earlier this year, a bomb ripped through its headquarters in Damascus. Before that, four other employees were killed in an ambush.

Saleh's account meshes with the government's narrative of the conflict - that legitimate protest has been co-opted by foreign terrorists, backed by the West and their Sunni Arab allies.

“We don't have to speak about the Syrians inside," she said. "We have to speak more about the people who are not Syrian.”

Since the conflict began, President Bashar al-Assad has allowed certain internal opposition, as long as it acts within government strictures. These “legitimate” voices hold news conferences in Damascus and run the reconciliation ministry.

Resolution seems distant

But so many people have died - on both sides - that a peaceful resolution seems further away than ever.

Still, by arguing this is more proxy war than insurrection, some see an opening, however slight.

Al-Ekhbaria Director Imad Sara describes himself as an opponent of corruption - be it the head of government, or anyone else - and a defender of Syria.

Sara said Western media portrays his media as defending a regime.

“This is completely wrong,” he said, arguing that he defends the nation, Christians, Muslims and all groups.

This is a view increasingly voiced by once unwavering supporters of the system. By stressing the external, some hope they can overcome their internal differences.

It is a message reporter Saleh said she tried to tell one of her captors, mortally wounded in the military operation that freed her.

She said: “I could not protect him, but I told him something before he died. I said, “We are Syrians. We are not monsters, as you think.”

Whether all parties can believe that becomes less clear the longer the war rages on.

Video produced by Japhet Weeks for VOA.
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