Free Syrian Press Still Emerging As Opposition Newspapers Grow

Article Summary
Mahmoud Dahnoun explores local opposition newspapers in Syria and laments that “negligence” on the part of the opposition groups has prevented them from publishing a nationwide revolutionary paper. He speaks to the editors of these local papers about their challenges and the future of their work after the downfall of Bashar al-Assad.

Syria continues to fight for a new reality that contrasts with the one that had been constructed by the the Assad family. The media is one of the main factors in the estrangement between these two competing sides.The Syrian regime has failed to silence the revolting Syrians’ demands for freedom and to prevent them from showing their revolution to the world. Another key factor is that many Syrians turned into “citizen journalists,” to Assad's vocal displeasure. Surprisingly however, he did not direct these sentiments toward those demonstrating on the streets, but rather toward those who were filming the demonstrations and sending their footage to “malicious television channels.”

Assad’s “Displeasure” and the Loss of Life

On the other hand, more than a year after the outbreak of the revolution, we have yet to witness the emergence of a single newspaper with a nationwide reach and which represents the point of view of the revolutionaries. This can be attributed in part to the “negligence” of the various opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, which have failed to publish a newspaper abroad that could be distributed within Syria. This issue was avoided and partially mitigated by the fact that the villages and cities experiencing revolts established a number of smaller local newspapers. These publications include the Inab Baladi (Local Grapes) paper from Darayya, a town situated in the countryside near Damascus, and the Tala’ana Al-Hurriyyah (We Seek Freedom) paper published by the revolutionary coordination committees. Below are a few of the statements made by the editors-in-chief of these newspapers:

The Beginning, Needs and Challenges of the Revolution

Laila al-Safadi, editor-in-chief of  Tala’ana Al-Hurriyyah, admits that the revolutionary coordination committees have indeed neglected to publish a newspaper that speaks on behalf of the revolution. She believes that “it would be more rational for such projects to take off after the downfall of the regime.” She does, however think it necessary to issue such a publication because of “the growing need for rational and civil rhetoric for and from Syrian citizens — especially during such unknown circumstances — to explore the possibilities facing Syria.”

For his part, Musa Abdel Haq (a pseudonym), editor-in-chief of Inab Baladi, stated that the plan to publish a paper was only one among “a series of projects which we have embarked on.” The need for a paper emerged “with the regime’s increasingly deceptive media practices. We and everyone else were forced to try and confront the media and form alternative platforms. We must be capable of spreading the voice of truth to ordinary Syrian readers who lack the skills to use advanced technologies like the Internet. This segment of society still considers reading hard-copy newspapers as the easiest and simplest way to disseminate information.”

The challenges involved in establishing a national newspaper are no different than those facing local newspapers, which Abdel Haqq confirms will continue to be published. According to him, the publishing process for Inab Baladi faced challenges relating to “publishing, editing, distribution and funding.” He adds, “These challenges came in addition to the regime’s intelligence services’ attempts to arrest us and erase our traces.”

Al-Safadi takes a different perspective on the issue. “The idea of having a newspaper that will be read under such alarming circumstances in Syria is wonderful and ambitious. The real challenge now is for us to continue being able to carry out these civil duties in such life-or-death circumstances,” she says.

There are no professional journalists working on Inab Baladi. According to Abd al-Haqq, the newspaper’s staff is made up of young people from the city of Darrayya. Each of these individuals has a different academic background. According to al-Safadi, the same applies to some who work at Tala’ana Al-Hurriyyah, where in addition to the journalists, some “activists on the ground also write reports.”

When pressed about the content of these two papers and their audience, al-Safadi answered, “Our message is directed toward the silent and revolutionary peoples alike. This is important for us to be able to contribute to bringing about the circumstances that could unite the Syrians against their executioner. The reason behind this is our faith that Syrians themselves will be capable of achieving the success of the revolution. All bets on the justice of the world and its supposed position in support of righteousness and morality have failed, proving its untruthfulness.” Al-Safadi added, “As it was the ordinary Syrian people who ignited their outstanding revolution, we wanted the paper to truly represent and echo their voice. Those people prove their superiority to the political and cultural elite on a daily basis, and needed a newspaper that captures the pulse of the street.”

For his part, Abdel Haq said, “Our message is directed to all Syrians and our aim is to unite their ranks and converge their ideas. We expect to include diverse points of view to achieve this convergence. As an example, our paper suggests ways to combine the rhetoric of peaceful revolutionary action with military endeavors.”

Distribution and Future

Inab Baladi — published weekly — has so far circulated copies of 13 issues, while the revolutionary coordination committees have been able to publish five issues of the bi-monthly Tala’ana Al-Hurriyyah. Al-Safadi explains that the paper’s distribution is the responsibility of coordination committees in Syria and abroad. She added that “the committees try to cover both the revolting and calm areas by printing as many copies as possible, which, of course, does not mean as large of quantities as would be required of popular newspapers. However, the number of printed copies are satisfactory given the conditions and our capabilities.”

Regarding Inab Baladi’s distribution, Abdel Haq stated that the city of Darayya enjoys the biggest share, while Damascus ranks second. “However, what surprised us the most since the first issue was the initiative taken by some youth coordination committees in Europe who had taken it upon themselves to print and disseminate the first copies in many cities,” he added.

What will be the future of these papers? They were born within the context of the revolution, and might no longer to be needed once the revolution achieves its principal goal of ousting the regime.

Abdel Haq does not agree that the need for the newspapers will cease to exist following the end of the revolution. On the other hand, al-Safadi thinks that it will. She said, “Tala’ana Al-Hurriyyah is the newspaper of the local coordination committees in Syria, and it will continue to publish as long as these committees continue to be active. Following the fall of the regime a new era of Syrian history will begin, which will consequently map out the the direction, content and message of the country’s newspapers ... but newspaper publication will generally remain one of the most important civil activities in this liberated society. It is a crucial and important social regulator. The Syrian people have a lot to accomplish in building a political and cultural society.” 

As for Abdel Haq, he is certain that Inab Baladi is a project that will really serve the Syrian free press. He said, “We devote all our efforts to achieve a free press in the new Syria. A Syria that will be a pluralist civil state.”

Found in: syrian press, syrian opposition, syrian national council, syrian crisis, syrian, opposition newspapers, media, journalism, freedom of expression, free syrian army, free press, censorship

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