So first the banking sector was opened up, then we heard about radical economic reforms, now could the government do the unthinkable – make Syrian TV independent?
Private TV stations were allowed shortly after Bashar came to power, and the first major venture – Sham TV launched last year. But it was shut down in October. Many said, it was because the government was planning something.
And now, we see why. The government wants to create its own Al Jazeera – it worked for Saudi Arabia, which created Al Arabiyah, seen by many as relatively independent.
It makes sense. Syrians can watch satellite TV like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyah – it is cheap and easy to put up a satellite dish. And with every new Al Jazeera viewer, Syrian TV loses a viewer.
Majed Halima, head of Syrian TV: “Now we are proposing an act that would empower the cooperation with more financial and administrative independence so that it could compete with other Arab and international media outlets.”
Interestingly, one reason they are changing could be because of pressure from inside. Halima says he is worried about the loss of talented Syrian broadcasters, who go to Al Jazeera because they want more freedom. Indeed, many of Al Jazeera’s presenters and reporters are Syrian.
Damascus has one of the most vibrant independent TV production industries in the Arab world. Around one hundred companies – completely independent of government – operate in Damascus, producing some of the best programmes in the Arab world, which are sold to broadcasters across the Arab world.