Syrian news group consolidates opposition coverage

Journalists in the Idlib province are taking a step toward substantiating the Syrian opposition by joining with activists to create a unified news and reporting organization.

al-monitor A panel is seen at the launch of the General Media Institution, Idlib, Syria, in this still from a video filmed May 6, 2017.  Photo by YouTube/SMART News Agency.

Topics covered

syrian revolution, opposition, media, bashar al-assad, idlib, activism, journalists

May 31, 2017

ALEPPO, Syria — A group of journalists and activists has launched the General Media Institution in the opposition-controlled Syrian province of Idlib, with the aim of communicating opposition news, providing some functions of a trade union, and helping to protect, educate and train journalists.

About 80 activists and media figures attended the founding meeting May 6, stressing that the institution's major objectives are to help consolidate and coordinate media work in the province and create a revolutionary media platform capable of bringing together most of the media and concerned activists there.

Institution secretary Moath Abbas told Al-Monitor, “The Institution was warmly welcomed by Idlib’s activists and media community, many of whom expressed their desire to join it. As of May 29, the total number of members had exceeded 120, and the institution is still welcoming new members." The group elected a 10-member follow-up committee May 28 and has already begun work on a documentary about current conditions in the province.

"We have been thus far confident about our work and the division of tasks among the members, and we are seeking to draw up action plans for the second half of 2017."

Abbas said the opposition military factions haven't commented on the institution. "No external factors have thus far come in the way of our progress,” he said. Should the armed opposition factions not be satisfied with the institution, it will face several problems, especially a need for financial support and the difficulty of convincing members to use rhetoric that fits the goals of the Syrian revolution, without favoring any faction.

Before the institute's launch, several activists and media members held periodic meetings and elected a preparatory committee of seven members, including journalists Abbas, Mustafa Kantar, Ahmad Barbour and Ahmad Assi, and activists Mohammad Khalifeh, Omar Hajj Ahmad and Abdel Qader al-Bakri. Many of the committee members were behind the idea of the institution.

During the founding meeting in the city of Idlib, several activists and media figures were elected to fill positions in the institution. Assi was elected chairman, and managerial positions were filled in the editorial and secretariat offices, and in public relations, visual production, photography, electronics and translation.

"The time has come for the revolutionary forces to turn to institutional action," Assi told Al-Monitor. "We, as media workers, had to be the first to create a coherent body that serves as the first step toward activating the revolution institutions and organizing their work."

He explained that the institution founders are professional and certified journalists, and the institution includes activists and people who have worked in media institutions and those who learned journalism during the revolution without having majored in journalism.

“In order to join this institution, one should not have any political or factional affiliations whatsoever. Also, one should not be loyal to any military camp in the opposition. Those wishing to join the institution should be based in Syria and should be Syrian nationals. Additionally, they should have worked in a visual, written or audio media outlet. These conditions will be key items in the bylaws of the General Media Institution,” Assi added.

“The institution will be organizing training courses to develop members' skills, and we will give members press cards to facilitate their work in the province. We are working to include all of the media workers in the province,” Assi said.

The group will face several challenges right off the bat, Assi noted. “The idea and structure of the institution should be properly organized and shaped so as to be made acceptable to everyone in Idlib province. ... There are many local media outlets and institutions interested in Syrian affairs, and each one of those has special policies they are working on — hence the great efforts that are needed to convince these outlets of the need" to present a well-thought-out and distinctive message.

"Another factor that could pose a challenge for us is the fact that Idlib province is under the control of several factions,” he said.

Asked about the institution’s orientations, Assi said, “We are a media institution that emerged from the Syrian revolution, and we stand at one [equal] distance from all the revolutionary components inside Syria. We do not follow any military faction, nor do we adopt any intellectual or political orientation. We work under the banner of the Syrian revolution, and we do not mind cooperating and coordinating with any revolution component that could serve our cause.”

So far, he said, the group's activities have been financed only by personal donations from a small group of members.

“No membership fees have been thus far imposed," public relations director Omar Hajj Ahmad told Al-Monitor, "but we are considering imposing symbolic fees in the near future for members to contribute to the institution's development." Funds also could be used to help members in urgent need due to injuries or emergencies, he added.

Ahmad elaborated on the group's ambitious plans.

“During the coming period, the institution will focus on conveying what is happening in the province of Idlib through short films, documentaries and video reports. Additionally, there will be several written reports on Syrian local websites of the revolutionaries to expose the crimes that Russia, Iran and the [regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] committed against Syrian civilians," Ahmad said. "Also, the institution will focus on the problems Syrians are suffering from in Idlib — be they related to education, health, living or security. Should the institution succeed, we aspire to develop its work to cover other Syrian rebel areas, not just Idlib.”

Taher al-Omer, who works as a reporter at Radio Sham of Idlib, told Al-Monitor he hopes the institution will be able to guarantee journalists' rights in the areas cleared of the Islamic State (IS) that are under the opposition's control. He hopes the group will be capable of "protecting them and their freedom of movement, all the while helping them [carry out] their work."

He continued, "I hope the institution will be able to organize journalists within a body similar to a trade union, and I hope it will be able to train media cadres so as to reach a decent level of professionalism ... [and] upgrade the intellectual level of those working in the revolution media away from any type of factionalism or narrow affiliations. Another objective is to find a discourse [worthy of] the level of the sacrifices of the Syrian people, who rebelled against the regime of Bashar Assad in order to obtain freedom and dignity.”

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