News / Middle East

Waging Satellite Wars Over Syria

Satellite television channels with competing political agendas vie for the hearts and minds of Syria's millions who face an uncertain future

A house in Azaz destroyed by Syrian government rockets according to local residents, December 18, 2012. (Reuters) A house in Azaz destroyed by Syrian government rockets according to local residents, December 18, 2012. (Reuters)
A house in Azaz destroyed by Syrian government rockets according to local residents, December 18, 2012. (Reuters)
A house in Azaz destroyed by Syrian government rockets according to local residents, December 18, 2012. (Reuters)
David Arnold
A bloody civil war has been tearing Syria apart for almost two years now and the United Nations estimates more than 60,000 have been killed with no end in sight.
But at the same time, another kind of battle is underway – one between the state-controlled media in Damascus and a dozen or so independent news outlets operating both inside and outside the country.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has done his best to neutralize the Internet as a weapon for those who oppose him. Shortly after he took office 12 years ago, he began clamping down on troublesome websites, eventually banning Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and dozens of independent outlets that carried news and political commentary. 
There’s a lot of money being pumped into television channels from the Gulf, from Saudi Arabia
Opposition activists have fought back, using proxy servers and software that hides an author’s identity and allows citizens to offer YouTube video clips and 140-character tweets to a global audience.
Television, however, remains a major arena in the mass media battle for Syrian sympathies. And new outside groups have emerged to offer something more than the government’s censored television programs. New stations now regularly have programming with front-line reporting on the civil war, including a good dose of visuals from YouTube reporting on the revolution.
The new narrative of Syria’s civil war is now driven - and the future may be strongly influenced by - the wealth and political will of others: businessmen, governments and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East, Europe and the United States that push the buttons of satellite distribution and feed news and opinion into Syria.
Surrounded by opposing voices, differing ideas
“There’s a lot of money being pumped into television channels from the Gulf, from Saudi Arabia,” said Malik al-Abdeh, a Syrian journalist and commentator in London. “A lot of it has a political agenda, trying to promote certain leadership around the country…”
Abdeh, who consulted on an American Public Broadcasting System Frontline television documentary, “Undercover Syria,” said these channels share a mission of seeking Assad's ouster. He says that so far, the stations have made no effort to coordinate their efforts with the Syrian political or military opposition.
Major Pan-Arab broadcasters such as Aljazeera, BBC Arabic, Alhurra and Al Arabiya reach a potential 22.5 million Syrian viewers with news about Syria and the rest of the Middle East. There are, however, at least 10 stations operating from studios in Lebanon, Dubai, Egypt and Britain that focus only on Syria and its political future.
Before the uprising started, London-based Barada TV was sending its message of political reform into Syria with the help of U.S. funding. Al-Mashraq was founded by journalist and businessman Ghassan Abboud in 2007 in Damascus, and moved to Dubai after a 2010 raid by government security forces.
There are at least two channels in Amman -- Souriya al-Shaab, founded by a Jordanian businessman, and Shada al-Houriya, run by a Salafist cleric and his son. Yet another station, Souriya al-Ghad, operates in Cairo.
Most are clearly opposed to Assad, but at least one seeks to demonstrate some neutrality. A former Beirut bureau chief for Aljazeera in Arabic, Ghassan Ben Jaddou, left the Qatar media giant to open Al-Mayadeen in Lebanon and is reported to have dispatched journalists to report on Assad’s security forces.
Stations on the Syrian border transmit directly into the country, but others rely on the powerful satellite signals of Arabsat and Nilesat.
The Arab League shut down Syrian state television's ability to distribute its news on the Arabsat satellite service, and Egypt’s Nilesat followed suit, silencing Assad’s version of the conflict and further isolating his government from the world.

There is a huge, most big, market because the people are all interested in politics.  They are all politicians
Outside of the community of satellite broadcasting, new television stations have begun operating in the rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo and Deir Azzour, a governorate whose capital is currently under siege.
The rest of Syria’s local television consists of a pro-Assad private channel, Addounia TV, and an array of smaller specialized channels carrying religious programs, weddings and a channel devoted to boosting the moral of Libyans displaced since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.
‘Exposing what’s going on’ into Syria
A staple of Syria’s opposition TV has been discussion and debate among anti-Assad exiles. One station, Barada TV, it's ready to begin full scale news coverage from the rebel-held areas.
“We will send the cameras,” said Ayman Abdul Nour, the new head of Barada TV. “We already have the people there with video cameras. We will interview people inside Syria and expose what’s going on.”
A recognized voice of Syria’s opposition politics, Nour is enthusiastic about the television audience in Syria, where rooftop satellite dishes are a common sight.
“There is a huge, most big, market because the people are all interested in politics.  They are all politicians,” he said.  “It’s the most popular issue in the world…”
Nour was a personal friend and media advisor to President Assad, but broke with the government in 2002 and started to promote political reform with his web-based All4Syria news service in Damascus. Under threat of arrest, Nour later left the country and went to Dubai’s Orient TV, where he produced commentary and debate programming.
A few weeks ago, Nour took over as chairman of the board of Barada TV, which was funded for many years by the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. According to the Washington Post, Barada got funding from Congress during the Bush administration. The funding reportedly ended a couple of years ago and Nour is now looking for supporters.
Nour is also rebranding the channel as BTV and said he will focus new television programs on community leaders and ordinary Syrians inside the country.
How the opposition’s reporting prevailed
The satellite television reporting about Syria’s revolution began a few months after the first protests when major TV channels in the Middle East aired a YouTube video of a man in flowing brown robes carrying the lifeless body of a child shot in the head. The man appeared in shock, walking slowly as others ran by him to escape the shooting of dozens of demonstrators in the little of Izra’a.
“It certainly succeeded in convincing many young Syrians to protest in solidarity,” Abdeh wrote recently. Citizen-journalists captured the drama of the protests and the government’s violent crackdown and their videos were packaged on YouTube with a few basic reporting facts by Syrians who organized Ugarit, Shaam, and Syrian News Network.
Abdeh said the citizen-journalists mainly used smart phones to capture their videos and had two goals – show other Syrian communities what they were doing to reform the government, and as the conflict grew, to recruit the world to their side of the uprising. 
“They saw the west’s role in Egypt, their role in Tunisia, the role that France, the United Kingdom and the U.S. played in Libya,” Abdeh said. “So Syrians were very sensitive to the fact that if they were to get rid of Assad quickly, they needed western support.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs