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)
    x
    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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora