BBC News

The view from inside Syria's propaganda machine

By James Reynolds
BBC Iran correspondent

image captionSyrian journalists at Ikhbariya slavishly follow the government line, according to a reporter who defected from the channel
Many journalists who cover Syria struggle to convey the complexities of the country's conflict. But Syria's prominent Ikhbariya TV news network has no such problem.
It portrays a reasonably straightforward world: a brave Syrian government leads the fight against foreign-led terrorists.
Ikhbariya is privately owned, but it obeys the instructions of the ruling Baath Party. Every day it broadcasts the same message - the Syrian people are united in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Now, one of the channel's former reporters reveals how the channel does it. Ghatan Sleiba, 33, escaped to Turkey at the end of June.

Managing messages

media caption"We produce the news according to what the channel's managers want. If I produce a report that echoes their opinion, I get a bonus"
Mr Sleiba doesn't have any footage of himself reporting for the channel, but he is keen to pass around a photo showing him holding an Ikhbariya microphone.
"We talk to people before we interview them," Mr Sleiba says, continuing to use the present tense about his work as a reporter for the channel.
"Syrian citizens don't know anything - they don't know what to say - so we tell them what to say on TV in order to get the best report that we can. As a journalist my success is in getting my report to the channel. I do the reporting and I present it to the citizens - to the nation.
"For example, we tell the interviewees to tell us that they support Bashar al-Assad and they will always support him. And they accept this and say whatever I tell them. We do this to please the authorities who watch us."
Mr Sleiba explains how instructions are issued to reporters.
"The Baath party sometimes appoints a representative to give orders on its behalf. They generally contact us through an information office. The committee tells us to go and take pictures of this particular event, to take pictures of the martyrs, and so on."

'Simple nation'

I asked if he had ever have to broadcast something that he knew to be untrue.
"We produce the news according to what the channel's managers want. If I produce a report that echoes their opinion, I get a bonus. But if it's based on my opinion without representing their view it won't get on air.
image captional-Akhbariya's offices in Damascus were recently attacked by gunmen, killing three
"For example Syria's energy minister says there is plenty of petrol available. But in reality there aren't enough supplies in the country. We journalists are liars to the nation. The people can't trust us. This is very frustrating."
On every subject, Mr Sleiba speaks with a high level of certainty. He is sure that the Syrian people believe what they see on the state-controlled media.
"The Syrian nation is a simple nation. They believe whoever smiles at them on TV and they believe whoever cries. God help the Syrian nation."
On the same day that Ghatan Sleiba arrived in Turkey, gunmen raided one of his former channel's offices near Damascus. They destroyed its studios and killed seven staff members. Ikhbariya repeatedly airs graphic footage of this attack.
In the last 15 months, the conflict in Syria has meant extreme risk for opposition and foreign journalists. Now, broadcasting in support of the government has its cost.

More on this story

  • Gunmen 'kill seven' at Syrian pro-Assad Ikhbariya TV