How Do You Create A Free Media Culture In Syria?
Americans get news every day out of Syria. But who is bringing news of the conflict to the Syrian people?
A handful of independent Syrian journalists visited San Diego this week, in a trip sponsored by the U.S. State Department. One of them was Obadah Alkadri. He is the manager of two news organizations — The Damascus News Agency and the Alkadri Group for Media Production — that sprang up two years ago, with the Syrian revolution.
His radio network broadcasts to the Syrian people, reporting news gathered by journalists inside the country. KPBS news editor Tom Fudge met with the Syrian journalists, and he spoke afterward with Alkadri, who said his media group was inspired by the country's troubled times.
Obadah Alkadri: We didn’t have any strategy to build a big network but the situation on the ground forced us to create new ideas to convey what is going on from Syria to the outside.
Tom Fudge: From where do you broadcast? Do you have a radio station in Damascus? On the outskirts of Damascus?
Alkadri: Actually, this is a big question. The security on the ground is so bad that (state police) can determine where we are, so they can shoot us or catch us. So we divided Damascus into 15 sections. In each section we put one radio transmitter. We are playing this radio just for 20 minutes. After that, we turn it off and we will start again in another section, and turn on the other one.
Fudge: How many reporters do you have? How many editors do you have gathering news and presenting news?
Alkadri: In our studio we have about 20 guys working, like staff. We have like 5 editors, and we have 10 guys collecting the information from our journalists on the ground.
Fudge: Where is your studio located?
Alkadri: The main studio is located in Istanbul because inside Syria there is no electricity, no Internet, you can’t work there in the unsafe area. So we planned to build up the studio in Istanbul and we send the information back to Syria.
Fudge: How do you communicate with your journalists in Syria?
Alkadri: We have satellite phones, we also have satellite Internet. So we are in touch all the time with them.
Fudge: What kind of news are you trying to report?
Alkadri: We are trying to cover all the sides of the life and the action of regime, and at the same time the action of FSA, the Syrian Free Army. What (the FSA) is doing on ground and who is controlling and who is giving the order for all, and how life is taking place there.
Fudge: Is it dangerous to be a journalist in Syria?
Alkadri: It is the most dangerous to be a journalist, because the regime is… the journalist or the guy who has the camera is the target for the regime. The regime sends its snipers to target the journalists because any information sent outside Syria could be very dangerous for regime.
Fudge: You said that you have created many transmitters in different parts of Damascus. Is it difficult to run electricity to them? Is it difficult to keep them running?
Alkadri: (We had) this small transmitter at the beginning of our war. But now we have bigger transmitters. We put them in liberated areas, like Douma in Damascus. We are covering the liberated areas and the area which is under control of the regime as well.
Fudge: Is it difficult in what you call the liberated areas to be able to operate? Do you have the protection you need? Is it dangerous even in those areas?
Alkadri: It’s very dangerous. But we are paying some groups of the FSA to protect our office there. And also our activists there, they are professionals. They were in the revolution for years. They can manage themselves.
Fudge: What do you feel is your mission? What kind of news and information are you trying to bring to the Syrian people?
Alkadri: The fact about the regime and about the FSA, the Syrian Free Army, and what is going on.
Fudge: Do you believe that freedom of expression, freedom of the press, needs to be a part of the new Syria?
Alkadri: Yeah, yeah. It is our aim.
Editors Note: Alkadri told us that 700 journalists have been killed by the Syrian regime. It’s a fact we are not able to verify. Other news organizations have reported numbers much lower than that.