London, 27 Dec - At Damascus University journalism students were excited to see posters advertising: “Job Opportunity”. The posters were all over the campus, and offered 150,000 Syrian pounds or $360 (Dh1, 321) a month. This is a very good salary for journalism graduates, especially in a country where many news media channels have been closed down due to the war, now entering its seventh year.
Even news stations such as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera have also been told they were not welcome, and have also closed up shop.
However, last month, Iran’s Al Alam opened its Syrian sister channel Al Alam Syria.
Journalism graduates have limited options. They can work with state-run television, or join Iran’s Al Alam or other pro-Iranian channels, such as Iraqi TV, or Hezbollah’s Al Manar.
One journalism student joked, “Will they force me to wear the chador?” Another student retorted, “I will wear whatever they want me to wear with that salary.” With Syria’s dire economy, finding employment is fortunate.
Al Alam Syria currently only offers three hours of broadcast programming from 7-10pm. But it is expected that as it grows, it will expand its employee pool to 30 journalists.
The original Al Alam TV was founded February 2003, and claims to have an audience of 300 million Arabs. It has news bureaus in Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, but its headquarters are in Iran.
Khodor Al Ali, a member of the ruling Baath Party HQ in Damascus, promises the channel will be modern and trendy. Still, critics say it is a propaganda tool for Iran.
“In order to convey Iran’s views on what’s happening across the region, militarily, politically, and culturally, Iran has found it vital to maintain bridges with Arab citizens, through such channels. The Al Alam Channel used to always express the viewpoint of the Syrian government and it never tried, even out of courtesy, to see the point of millions of Syrians suffering from their government’s violence measures,” said Fares Al Zahaby, an opposition writer and activist.
His view is shared by the Syrian opposition, as well as Gulf States who see Iranian coverage of the affairs in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, as wrong.
The content of the new channel has focused on Palestinian issues. The Palestinian issue has been exploited by pro-Iranian media like Hezbollah’s Al Manar. It believed to be used to shift attention from domestic issues, and to rally popular opinion around non-divisive issues.
Al Zahaby asked, “To whom do they broadcast?” And answered, saying, “To those who support them only, in order to solidify them within their camp, especially when it comes to explaining or refuting crimes broadcasted by Arab and international channels. This is how it is throughout the Middle East, one side trying to impose its views on the other.”
The channel plans to air dramas and celebrity entertainment programming, and has begun production on two dramas starring Syrian and Iranian actors, both of which will be aired during Ramadan next year. It will be dubbed in both Arabic and Persian.