Television Programs of the Regime and the Revolution, a State of Creativity or Regional Cloning?
Each of the sides to the Syrian conflict attempted to prove its point of view and depict reality as seen by it, effecting a state of expansion in local media, which the regime-controlled for half a century. Prior to 2011, the sector was limited to a few radio stations, entertainment or art magazines, in addition to several newspapers, closely related to the regime and belonging to businessmen working under its umbrella.
With the establishment of a dozen of Syrian websites, newspapers, radio stations and TV channels, different in their orientations and sources of funding, both the regime and the revolution’s media outlets produced programs divergent from the familiar style. However, most of these were copying either Lebanese or Egyptian productions.
The Revolution Contributed to a New Media Climate
Nabil Mohammad, a Syrian journalist who worked for independent websites and prepared programs for Syrian television channels, said that the revolution has played a role in liberating a massive segment of people at an intellectual level and their departure from the intelligence services’ perimeters of control. Some of the freed obtained opportunities to work and produce, which certainly contributed to releasing a part of the content from the Syrian classical shackles and offered a group the chance to operate beyond the obsolete standards.
This bestowed the revolution with a role in the production of programs, similar to its humanitarian and social role, though the shackles continued to affect other programs, for the old mentality resumed its presence.
This openness, Nabil Mohammad said “has, at least, created opportunities for new faces to appear, regardless of this experiment’s success or failure. We cannot but attribute all the above mentioned to the revolution and the change, which led to the existence of new and different content.”
A Change from Beirut, Why?
LANA TV, owned by Samer al-Fouz, a businessman closely related to the Syrian regime, has produced several television programs, launched in the past a few months, including the “Kesat Hulm” presented by the media personality Rabia Al Zayyat, “Fi Amal” which is a talk show similar to Al Zayyat’s and presented by actress Amal Arafa, and “Sepia” where actor Ayman Zeidan leads the talk.
Lately, LANA TV has also started broadcasting a program called “Ana Show”, presented by the former basketball player Omar Hessaino, in which he hosts celebrities. In its style, the program resembles the Lebanese productions, in addition to the “Aklnaha” program, which actor Bassem Yakhour hosts.
Most of these programs are produced in the Lebanese capital Beirut, a choice that Nabil Mohammed attributed to several factors, on top of which is the developed technical abilities in Beirut, a thing that turned it into a location for many of the programs broadcasted on regime-affiliated channels.
This is in addition to the great number of studios, which are way too developed if compared to Syrian ones, and the experience the Lebanese staffs have in producing entertainment and dramatic programs because many channels have opened offices in Beirut earlier on, among them was the Saudi “MBC”. These factors are also backed by the massive number of celebrities and presenters who are already there all the time, which makes their movement easier.
Opposition and Regime Programs: No Difference
With many of the Syrian media staff breaking from the grip of official media’s “propaganda” and the emergence of what is referred to as the “alternative media”, the new media outlets made use of the freedom they are granted, despite the different kind of censorship they are subjected to. Stressing this, Nabil Mohammad said: “It is true. There is greater freedom and more innovation, regardless of the success of these media-related experiments. But at least, no one is chasing the journalist with a baton.”
He pointed out that the revolution had a great role in triggering a difference in the quality of programs offered to the Syrian audience, with the attempt at shedding the light on a once completely neglected humanitarian and social sector. For today, we can hear different voices with programs inclined to more openness in certain causes.
Mohammad, nonetheless, believes that the new produced programs of regime-affiliated channels are not essentially different from their predecessors, before the revolution. The former media policies are ongoing.
“We used to watch a single program glorifying the leader [either Assad the father or the son]. They have doubled today. There is a state of density and another of claiming media liberty, which is worse than the latter’s total absence due to its shallowness and naivety without carrying any real value.”
“The revolution managed to affect the content of the pro-regime media, turning it into a more violent one, amidst an effort at using the fame of some actors. It is hard to accept such a content,” Mohammad said.
The anti-regime television channels tried to present more diverse, liberal and daring programs than the Syrian official media outlets, and even the channels supporting the regime, let these programs be entertaining, social or political at times.
Nonetheless, these programs clashed with the old mentalities running the media foundations. Mohammad emphasized that some of the opposition-produced programs ventured to address certain contexts, but they need a long time before achieving the presumed success. There is something deeply rooted in the shape of media performance that is not yet completely changed, with many efforts at changing it, for sure.
“Are we capable? No. We need new generations. But still, there are new faces, which is a good thing,” Mohammad said, refuting not that some of the programs that the opposition presents are worse than those produced by the regime. They are considered as failing adventures at both levels, artistic and technical.
Opposition’s Programs, Are They Truly Free?
Some of the television programs, produced by channels counted as opposition-inclined, sought to present a new spirit and discuss political and social matters that were taboo-like in the past.
Commenting on this, Mohammad said that these experiments “did not realize actual success, for the space of liberty is yet new. Considering that we have been liberated from the previous constraints, we still need time, let alone the artistic and technical shortcomings, in addition to the presence of a vengeful state against the regime’s products. There is, for example, dozens of programs that are only making fun of the regime, without offering anything new.”
This cynicism is demanded for a specific time and a defined location, but it should not become a general state and remain that weak, incapable of addressing reality as it is. Mohammad pointed out that this pattern, though out of the regime’s control, it is bounded to donors and the political entities which offer them support while it requires a lot of time to trigger a state of creativity.
Young journalists are not depending on institutions for the success of the new programs, as much as on the persons themselves, ones who can obtain funding for a distinctive program, let the funder be an administration or a company.
He explained: “We do not have well-established production companies, not even at the level of academia. Unfortunately, we are obliged to wait for rule breakers, for the rule-bound are unable to produce under these circumstances.”