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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid