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Is Syria’s post-Revolution journalism scene in crisis?
October 25, 2017
Source: LinkedIn

Middle East media analysts say Syria’s emerging media sector is feeding an appetite for unbiased reporting, despite the challenges facing Syrian news organizations starting up during the current Syrian conflict.

 “The general performance is not that gloomy,” said Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director of the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation Freedom, at the launch of the preliminary report. The Beirut-based organization partnered with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom2, Lebanon and Syria to break down more than 12,000 Syrian press articles.

For Journalism in Crisis: A Content Analysis of the Emerging Media Sector in Syria, researchers focused on news and issues covered by 17 major print and online Syrian publications from January to June 2017. Their analysis determined that the quality of journalism in Syria’s emerging media sector, overall, serves its audience to an acceptable standard. The report’s main findings include:

The overwhelming majority of articles and reports adhere to quality standards and don’t contain libel or slander. The majority of content does not promote sectarianism, or incite hate or violence.
Most articles and reports used neutral language and appealed for national unity, peace, justice and accountability. A minority theme supported violence, revenge and hatred.
Military and field developments were the dominant theme of coverage - more than half of the 12,076 articles were about that topic. Political issues were second in popularity, followed by social affairs, economic affairs and services/infrastructure stories rounding out the Top Five.
·       Journalism in Crisis details how the Bashar al-Assad regime clamp down on independent and professional reporting, as well as the targeting of journalists by Al-Nusra Front, Daesh (ISIS), pro-regime militias and other armed factions, fueled a Syrian media revolution. The emergence of new media covering Syria continues to be fraught with danger.

·       “ISIS and Al-Nusra Front-controlled regions are inaccessible, posing a challenge for reporting,” said Yara Bader, of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. The non-profit group is one of many non-governmental organizations supporting Syria’s emerging media sector. 

·       The Journalism in Crisis preliminary study launch sought feedback from donor groups, journalists and media industry insiders with an interest in reports from the conflict zone. Syrian journalists at the event reminded attendees that their colleagues have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. 

·       “You are trying to work under the harshest conditions to survive,” said Khalid Khalil, a journalist with Souriatna weekly. 

·       The report explains how “citizen journalists” in Syria worked together to form more organized networks, eventually giving birth to online magazines and newspapers, print publications as well as radio and television channels independent from Syrian government-controlled media.

International journalism advocacy groups provided these outlets with equipment, skills-training and other support, enabling a peak of about 300 new media publishers to aspire to “international quality standards and professional practices,” the report says.

Despite this, Journalism in Crisis did find areas for improvement, including:

A need for better coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis. Less than ten percent of overall content monitored covered the issue of refugees. It is estimated that more than four million displaced Syrians live in neighboring countries – the majority in Turkey. The irony being most of the media outlets studied for the survey are based in Turkey.
Improved news sourcing. Of the more than 9,200 news briefs monitored, almost 85% cited just one or - no - source for information contained in the brief.
Syria’s emerging media sector pursuing more diverse coverage. News briefs made up a whopping 76% of all monitored content. The report says the briefs summarize the fast and frequently issued Syria-related political statements and changing situations on the ground, as well as updates on military and field developments on Syrian territory. Longer news reports and feature stories made up 14% of the data. Less than eight percent of monitored articles were opinion pieces. Investigative stories and interviews averaged around one percent (each) of total content in the study.
The study also identified chronic plagiarism: researchers found many newsrooms in Syria’s emerging media sector republish content from other news reports - without attribution – often.

“It is not normal to simply copy and paste what is put out by other outlets,” Mhanna said. “The culture of copy and paste should end. As a reader, we are asking for better content.”

The study makes recommendations, ranging from more training for reporters covering Syria, to providing better support for investigative journalism. It also encourages donors, media development institutions and Syria’s independent media to carry out more research surveys to better understand what readers want and how to better engage with them.

Journalists said growing an audience and keeping a start-up news organization in operation is a challenge anywhere - and it is considerably more difficult in Syria.

“As long as war is still going on in Syria, we can’t guarantee [journalism industry] sustainability,” says Yassin Swehat, journalist with Arabic and English-language publication Al Jumhuriya.

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the Samir Kassir Foundation say they expect to release the final version of the Journalism in Crisis report by December, and it will be accessible via their websites and social media.