Universities and schools
Since there are no real independent media institutions in the country, there is scarce availability of tools and experience in this sector. Public universities and private institutes do exist, but have little room of manoeuvre in particular regarding political issues. Specifically, the media professionalisation environment suffers from an increasingly polarised context where the ideological and political affiliation could count much more than any proven technical skill. As a matter of fact, on the National Media Council (NMC) website the page devoted to “Practice and preparation” and the one entitled “History of the Syrian press” are both empty of contents. In 2016, only five years after its creation in 2011, the NMC was absorbed by the Ministry of Information in the context of the “government reforms” promoted in the aftermath of the first popular protests. As many other state institutions, the NMC was considered an empty box with no effective power and role in the media environment. The Syrian Ministry of Information established the Ma‘had al-i‘dad al-i‘lam (Media Preparation Institute) in 1969. In 1985 the Education Ministry opened a Media Department at the University of Damascus, now the Faculty of Media and Mass Communication. According to the page on the official website of the university, the faculty organises and holds courses, workshops and training programmes for students, but also training and refresher courses for people already working in media institutions. Nowadays, there are also other media courses available at the university of Latakia. Media classes at the public universities of Damascus and Latakia are known for lack of equipment and facilities, in particular TV cameras and TV and radio studios. Due to the increasing demand, some private institutes started to organise short-term media courses in Damascus. Popular anchorpeople and journalists of public and private pro-government TVs lecture in some of these courses that are also recognised by the Information Ministry. In some cases, students of these courses have the chance to contribute to pro-government media outlets during the training period. For instance, in 2014 the Mass Communication and Training Institute in Damascus started a 15-day “war correspondent training media course” aimed at “developing media work in the face of the global terrorist war waged against Syria.” The following year, the Media Preparation Institute organised a “training course in talk-show and television and radio presentation” focused on “investigative journalism, body language, TV appearance, journalistic and social media reporting, in addition to issues related to war correspondents and political analysts.”
In the post-2011 context, many media activists and aspiring Syrian journalists had the chance to attend workshops and media courses organised inside and outside the county by dozens of Western INGOs specialised in the media development sector and funded by the EU, single European countries and the US. These training efforts reached their peak between 2013 and 2014. During this time, most of the workshops have been organised outside Syria, mainly in Southern Turkey (Gaziantep) as well as in Lebanon and Jordan. The main targets of these trainings were Syrian media activists coming from areas that were no longer under governmental control. In some cases, local media outlets close to the opposition political agenda emerged out of these experiences; whilst in other cases, local media centres (as the Syrian Press Centre in North-Western Syria) have been created in order to boast the training opportunities inside the war-torn opposition-held areas. Actually, some aspiring Syrian journalists have benefited from field experience, mainly as photo-reporters and cameramen along the frontlines. As many of them feel they have overcome the initial condition of ‘activists’, they express the need of more advanced trainings.