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Decline in press media in Daraa due to Internet, re-control of Syrian regime, and Coronavirus

A man reading the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Syria’s al-Thawra newspaper - 2016 (cubaislainfinita)

A man reading the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Syria’s al-Thawra newspaper - 2016 (cubaislainfinita)

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Daraa – Halim Muhammad

The novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, constitutes a further obstacle to the circulation of paper-based newspapers in the southern province of Daraa after they went almost extinct.  Daraa launched the first cry of freedom in 2011, to revive again under the re-control of the Syrian regime in July 2018.

The governorate had seen new experiences and projects in the media sector during the control of the opposition factions, and it was facing the official media narrative of the Syrian regime and its platforms. Still, these experiences stopped for various reasons, the last of which was the regime’s re-control of opposition areas.

Coronavirus ended print newspapers

The Syrian government’s Ministry of Media suspended the issuance of the print newspapers, according to a decision issued on 22 March, after the first coronavirus case was registered in Syria. The suspension order includes private and public newspapers, with keeping the electronic newspapers active. 

The editor-in-chief of the Syrian regime-affiliated newspaper, al-Watan, Waddah Abed Rabbo, highlighted in an interview with Sputnik, a Russian state-controlled news agency on 23 March, that this was “the first time” this has happened in the history of the Syrian media, Abed Rabbo added that “We have to communicate with every reader remotely. We have to listen to him, and he has to read our newspaper. We want to be by his side just as the newspaper used to accompany him every morning. The journalists do not know the meaning of having rest.”

However, the relationship with the reading public changed after 2011, and it is not as Abd Rabbo describes it. The residents of Daraa have developed new political and cultural concepts; those who wanted the overthrow of the Syrian regime cannot accept the paper newspapers in which the Syrian regime agrees to all their content.

As the official newspapers continued to adopt the regime’s vision of the current events in Syria, and the majority of intellectuals considered them disconnected from their reality, according to the opinion of a former member of the “Syrian Communist” party in Daraa, who declined to be named.

According to the former member of the “Communist” Party, the printing press had a prominent role in educating and enlightening society in the fifties and sixties of the twentieth century. Still, its luster began to diminish after the “Baath” party assumed power, and turned it into its voice in all Syrian lands, including Southern Syria and Daraa.

A “repetitive” press … despite the “freedom” decrees

According to the resigning member, the “Communist” newspaper was released and distributed in secret, to the members of the “Communist” party until the issuance of the Publications Law in 2001, to be sold on sidewalks and in bookstores. Even though the Communist newspaper blisters some governmental decisions, “it did not deviate from the general political framework, drawn by the authority in Syria.”

In 2001, the Syrian regime approved Law No. 50, which provides for “freedom of printers, libraries, and publications.” Then, it was replaced by Law No. 108 on 28 August 2011, which stipulated “the independence of all media outlets and their freedom to perform their messages.”

The National Media Council (NMC) was established in Syria, according to the 2011 law, and its mission is to organize and develop “independent” media work. It is worth mentioning that its 11 members are appointed by the head of the Syrian regime and are affiliated with the Council of Ministers.

The NMC continued its work until 2016 when the amendments to the decree were repealed, and the authority to oversee and organize media organizations reverted to the Ministry of Media.

Dozens of private newspapers were published in Syria: “al-Watan” newspaper, owned by businessman Rami Makhlouf, a relative of Bashar al-Assad, “Baladna,” a local newspaper concerned with Syrian political affairs, the newspaper “Salib Mujib,” which publishes news of crimes and scandals, and was popular with followers and the critical newspaper, al-Domari, which shed light on the corruption of government agencies. This newspaper had been active for only two years from 2002 until 2004.

Journalist Walid al-Nawfal, who is originally from Daraa and works for the Syria Direct news site, believes that the private press in Syria should be evaluated separately (each newspaper on its own) based on the content, purpose, and agenda, as some of them represented a “different” experience that tried to promote the Syrian media before they were forced to be shut down. 

Journalist Anwar al-Hariri, a former journalist for “Yaqeen,” a news website focuses on its coverage in southern Syria, told Enab Baladi that the regime tried to delude the world by giving a space of freedoms, and it allowed the issuance of some private newspapers. However, all articles in Syria actually pass through the offices of political guidance and are under the supervision of the press office in the “presidential palace.”

Al-Hariri added that the Syrian people have never been deluded with what these newspapers contain, except that “the fear of the security branches and the fear of being accused of weakening national sentiment were pushing people to buy them, and I, in my personal capacity, used to buy them to solve crossword puzzles and use them to wipe off any dust or dirt left on windows.”

Internet … Alternative media outlet

The “revolutionary” activity after 2011 imposed the rapid circulation of news and helped to form new platforms through websites that government censorship could not control.

The Internet also provided various immediate sources of news, unlike the daily or weekly printed press, which is sometimes difficult to obtain, according to Diaa, a former law student, who refused to give his full name and spoke to Enab Baladi about his experience as a recipient of information.

 

Tamer al-Juhmani, a lawyer, working for “The Committee for the Defense of Prisoners of Opinion and Conscience in Syria” website, the websites do not have to elaborate on their articles and news, which promoted the revolution to rely on them “due to the many events and massacres.”

Independent journalist Basil Ghazzawi said that electronic journalism allows to follow-up events at every moment, but it is not possible to deliver the paper press to all followers, given the difficulty of moving in the opposition-controlled areas.

Meanwhile, Ahmed al-Majarish, a journalist working in the Ahrar Houran Group, a local media organization, believes that issuing paper newspapers is expensive, including printing, paper and ink, and the wages of offices and workers.

In Daraa, there were “modest” experiences of issuing paper publications, including a monthly magazine called “Shams.” One of its former editors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it stopped after three issues were printed when the regime retook control of the governorate. People felt as he described “nostalgia” for paper prints, they were looking for magazines and books.

According to the “Syrian Publications Archive” website, Daraa governorate saw the issuance of two publications in 2012 and 2013 adopting a discourse against the Syrian regime: “The Cradle of the Revolution” of which six issues were released, and “al-Omari” of which four issues were published.

 

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