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Report: Syria - Turkey

New Syrian media emerges despite rising extremism

Gaziantep in Turkey has besome a hub for journalists who have left Syria
Gaziantep in Turkey has besome a hub for journalists who have left Syria Wikimedia Commons

In war-torn Syria, radical Islamic groups are becoming more powerful, and in past months have kidnapped and killed Syrian journalists in unprecedented numbers, forcing many to flee the country. But with these dangers, alternative methods to transmit information in and out of the country have emerged.

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The control of Aleppo, a major city in northern Syria, has been an ongoing dispute between the regime, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and radical Islamic groups.

Mohammed (not his real name) has been reporting from Aleppo since the first days of the uprising. “When the FSA entered Aleppo and liberated a lot of areas, we knew a lot of brigades and forces from FSA, that was - it's very good, the situation," he recounted. "But when the Islamic states entered Aleppo the strategy changed. So I couldn't ask for protection from the FSA because they needed protection themselves."

These extremist groups, and notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), comprise of a mix of foreigners and native Syrians. In past months they have taken control of certain areas earlier liberated by the FSA. In their efforts to put Islamic law into place they target those supporting a more secular society, notably journalists.

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Mohammed finally decided to leave Syria after a coworker was arrested by ISIL. "In the last month, it was so bad because we don't have any protection, not even from the FSA," he added, "because the FSA itself needs protection from the Islamic states."

For those living inside these war zones, there is minimal information available about what is happening in neighbouring cities and regions. Much of the information infrastructure inside Syria has been destroyed, and the remaining news channels are inclined to spread partisan information biased to one side or the other.

The Turkish town of Gaziantep, an hour away from the Syrian border, has become a hub for journalists who have left. At the Hawa SMART radio station, now based in Gaziantep, a group of reporters are working on a new radio program to broadcast local news over Syria. But it is difficult to create a cohesion among those who have just managed to escape.

Emerging Syrian media: part 1/5
Damage in the neighbourhood of Aleppo, 19 January 2014. Reuters/Hosam Katan

"For so many years we missed the feeling of working together," recollects Zoya Bostan, a former Syrian television news presenter who is the head of the news department at Hawa SMART. After living through decades of dictatorship, she says Syrians tend towards autonomy over collaboration. "Some of these journalists are beginners, while others are professionals. We're mixing them together. I wanted to teach them how to collaborate on this radio program.”

Hawa SMART provides support and training to journalists, with a core group of about 30 journalists and producers, creating radio programs that reach up to 10 million Syrians still living inside.

In an ongoing war, with little to no access to the Internet or other unbiased news sources, these programmes are clearly needed. Until Syria becomes safe for journalists again, these secret networks of reporters and broadcasters will continue to operate from abroad, transmitting objective information across the country.

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