Professional development

In most of the state-owned media, journalists are government employees who fear losing their jobs at any point and they do not earn enough to support their family. “Almost all journalists take on a second job, such as driving a taxi. Most state journalists work for private media outlets as well, although this is prohibited technically. Often paid by the story, journalists in the public sector will sacrifice quality in order to turn out as many articles as possible” (Media Sustainability Index). According to the law governing membership of the aforementioned Union of Journalists (SJU) “nobody can practise journalism unless he is registered in the general list of syndicate members” (Art11). Those wishing to register as “working” journalists have to undergone the necessary training and not to “practice any other profession” (Art 13). For recent high-school graduates the period of training lasts four years, three years for university graduates with no less than two years of media studies and six years for people with neither. The same article prohibits journalist apprentices from practising another profession. During the training period, the trainee is obliged to work in a media institution accepted by the SJU executive bureau. The training institutions are all state-run. Each year annual reports detailing the progress of the training have to be presented and the apprentice must pass a test defined by the registration committee, which eventually takes the decision to confer “working” status or extend the training period to six additional months. This gives the state another opportunity to prevent those with critical voices from becoming journalists. Only after finishing the required training period, training journalists are accepted as “working” members. All journalists, then, both Syrian and foreign, are required by law to carry their journalist’s IDs. The ID is issued by the General Administration for News and Publicity. It must bear the name of the publication or agency for which the journalist works and is only valid for the year in which it is issued.

Despite the fact that the government is now retaking almost all the areas lost in the first three years of the revolt, it should be noted that the development of emerging Syrian media over the past five years has been characterised by an increasing structuration and institutionalisation. As mentioned before, this process has been often supported by international partners working in the field of media development. Generally speaking, these emerging media still have to struggle with scarcity of expertise both at administrative and journalistic level. There is still suspicion on the part of the founders of media outlets in sharing power and responsibilities with other people, because they are afraid to lose control on the institution. As far as content producing is regarded, the quality has been developing over the past years, overcoming the original phase of the activism and moving towards a more professionalised journalism practice. More emphasis is being put in fact in cross-checking the sources and on the autonomy of reporters. However, most media outlets have problems in retaining their trained staff (due to migration and/or search for more stable and more remunerative employment opportunities) and this remains one of the main problems for a higher professionalisation. The recently formulated ethical charter (see above) represents an important step also in this direction, despite its lack of enforcement mechanisms.