The formation of the “Media Directorate” in Ghouta, by the “Unified Command” that is functioning in the areas under the control of “Jaysh al-Islam,” has created a shock in the area’s media field, triggered by accusations, which activists directed against the armed factions, alluding that they are regulating the field in manner that comply with their goals, rather than the public interest
The Directorate has been established on 18 January by the “Unified Command,” in control of the Duma sector and its countryside, as well as the al-Marj areas, to administrate the media work and set its tone, amidst talks about “Faylaq al-Rahman’s” attempt at establishing a similar entity, which, according to activists, might scatter the efforts and disorient them, in a manner that resembles the Ghouta’s sectors.
Usam al-Omari has been assigned to administrate the Directorate. He told Enab Baladi that it will be addressing the media affairs in the areas under the “Command’s” authority in terms of rights and duties, pointing out that “[the Directorate] will work to regulate media work and to track it legally, as it is a double-edged weapon.”
For his part, Mazen al-Shami, the Director of “Damascus Media Office,” said that if the “Media Directorate” will be working for Ghouta’s interest, then all the activists would cooperate with it, reassuring Enab Baladi that if “[the Directorate] would support the interests of a certain faction, then it will be refused because this would be a monopoly of the media field.”
Active Media Bodies
Despite the novel formation of the Directorate, many other parties, for years, have been functioning in Ghouta, including the “Media Association,” that has been formed late in 2014, “Ghouta Media Center,” “Damascus Media Office” and others.
In an interview with Enab Balad, the Association’s Director Baraa Abu al-Yuser, said that the Association’s management has not been invited to the so called “Directorate” and was not even consulted about its formation, pointing out that the “[Directorate] is not deemed as a competitor for the Association.”
About the Association’s relationship with the newly founded Directorate, al-Omari said: “It will be clarified in the upcoming days; the Directorate will communicate with the Association for coordination.” Baraa believes that the area, at the current stage, does not need any new body, regardless of its title, “especially that the journalists had come a long way and Ghouta has moved from the fragmented action to specific centers that the Association cooperate with.”
The Association has been formed as a union to protect the rights of the journalists, to train and develop their work, according to the management. However, some people observe it as “the onlooker, who is affiliated with the factions to prevent addressing their violations.”
The Association includes about 200 media personalities, while the total number of activists and media personalities in Ghouta is estimated as 400 people, according to unofficial statistics.
According to the Director of “Damascus Media Office,” media agencies “seek to present what they see, not what is happening. This led to the idea of constructing the Office and other platforms that are not committed to a specific establishment or body,” pointing out that “individual and group activities have all made professional mistakes, especially those relating to the citizens’ privacy.”
The Directorate Demands Licenses for Media Work
The Directorates foundation statement included the imposition of work permits in the areas under the “Unified command;” its director said that “they are obligatory and a demand, for the people who do not own the permit would not be able to practice any work in the media field.”
The director also invited the reporters who are working in the media entities and agencies to get a legal license that allow them to practice their work, considering that as “framing the work within a legal context, that is represented with the Media Honor Charter, agreed upon in a former meeting with the journalists of Ghouta.”
However, the Director of the “Media Association” believes that “media is a soft power through which social pressure is practiced,” pointing out that “efforts must continue to preserve the freedom of media and to prevent its dependency, regardless of titles.”
Baraa confirmed that “There cannot be a talk about a management or a ministry to set media standards or issue licenses for media work in the shadow of the division among factions in general,” pointing out that, “any formation cannot impose a media mechanism outside the context of its authority, even if it sought to form bodies, for that would enhance division.”
Obstacles Facing Media Work in Ghouta
Just like other sectors, media has faced massive challenges in Ghouta, manifested by disputes that led to the arrest of media personalities by the factions, while others chose to run away from Ghouta, escaping the authority of these factions through different mediums.
According to al-Omari, the “Media Directorate” would not hinder any media-based practice, “but its formation aims to protect journalists and preserve their rights.”
For his part, the Director of the “Media Association” believes that the reason behind the problems in the media sector is some parties’ affiliation with the factions, “which resulted in many problems in terms of freedom and honesty that increased tension and widened the gap between the factions at many stages, despite the attempts to overcome it.”
Ghouta have witnessed a phase of “media militarization,” as activists refer to it, especially during the conflict between the factions between 2015 and 2016. Back then, the Association suspended its work as a call to stop the conflict and went back to perform later on.
According to an informed source, who wishes to remain anonymous, the “Revolutionary Command,” represented by “Faylaq al-Rahman,” is working to form a private media entity to regulate the work in the areas under its control.
Activists and members of the media field believe that commitment to the formed entities according to the ruling authority, “complicates the work and limits it within specifications that do not have a definite goal.”
Most of those who have been interviewed by Enab Baladi called for the need to regulate the work and set up frames according to which journalists can function, “especially that Ghouta has become alone in rural Damascus after the truces and reconciliations in the surrounding areas.”
The “Unified Command” in eastern Ghouta has been formed in August 2014, after the agreement of the major factions in the area, represented by: Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, Faylaq al-Rahman, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham led by Zahran Alloush.
After the formation of the unified military leadership, a parallel media entity emerged, under the name “Media Association.” However, “Faylaq al-Rahman” and “Ajnad al-Sham” suspended their membership due to accusations that were made against Alloush. The Association, to the day, is an active body despite the fact that it did not receive the approval of all media personalities in Ghouta.
The “United Command” remained under the control of, “Jaysh al-Islam,” while “Faylaq al-Rahman,” in November 2017, formed another media entity in partnership with local and civil establishments, under the name “Revolutionary Command Council”.