The print news scene is clearly dominated by official government-controlled newspapers. Emerging media still struggle to gain a considerable audience inside the country, because they are relatively young, they do not have sufficient resources and the situation on the ground poses many obstacles to the circulation. According to the findings of the 2016 study carried by FPU et al, opposition journals (among which, only few still exist today, such as Al-Ghirbal, issued in Kafr Nabl, Idlib and Hibr, a weekly magazine from Aleppo) tend to lag well behind the government-controlled newspapers in percentage terms on the list of most-read newspapers.
Currently in Syria there are three state-run political dailies (Al-Thawra and its five local editions, Tishrin and al-Baath,) and two private dailies (Al-Watan and Baladna). For decades, the first pages on domestic and regional affairs of the state-run dailies have been mere patchworks of the press releases published by the official news agency Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the mouthpiece of the government. Al-Watan is owned by a cartel of wealthy businessmen close to the Asad family and it began publication in November 2006. Its primary financial backer is President Bashar al-Asad’s cousin Rami Makhluf, while a major advertising group owned by Majd Suleiman, son of Bahjat Sulayman, former senior intelligence officer, runs the non-political daily Baladna. Until June 2008 there was also the state-run English-language daily The Syria Times, which in 2012 reappeared, but only on the Internet There are no independent sources for newspaper circulation: Tishrin claims that the circulation of both Tishrin and Thawra is around 80,000 copies per day. Al-Baath claims to print around 25,000-30,000 copies a day (Media Sustainability Index, 2009). As suggested by the monolithic ownership and control of Syria’s daily press, there are no divergences between the three state-run dailies and the official news agency SANA. The first pages of al Thawra, Tishrin and al-Baath offer always the same news appeared the day before on SANA’s website. The only difference is the position of the news articles inside the page. On the other hand, Al-Watan shows a more independent attitude and language but this apparent freedom is very often used to promote a more aggressive pro-government policy.
Opposition-controlled territories and Kurdish-majority zones
Opposition-aligned publications are distributed inside Syria according to the following four distinct patterns/regions:
- In the area comprising Aleppo and Idlib governorates and the opposition-controlled area of Hama governorate (to the South), there is the largest concentration of distribution networks and a relatively easier access to most publications due to their proximity to the printing centres in Turkey.
- The opposition-controlled areas of al-Qunaytra, Daraa, Ghuta are generally cut-off from the main distribution networks of the larger publications, as there is no route to them from Turkey. Nevertheless, there are some small-scale printing and distribution activities here, mostly for local publications.
- In Kurdish-controlled regions, the distribution is subject to the approval of the local autonomous administration.
- In the government-held Syria, there are only minimal and individual distribution efforts because of the dangers entailed.
The majority of these magazines have been published and distributed mainly in electronic format and their number reached its peak in 2013. Since 2011, only two daily independent newspapers have existed: Al-Khabar, published until April 2016 in Duma by the Damascus Countryside Reporters Network (DCRN) and distributed only in Eastern Ghuta and Suriya al-Yawm, issued by the National Change Current, which stopped in 2015. The lack of daily newspapers reveals that news items are usually secondary in importance to features and opinion articles. Only major news (or those relating specifically to the region of interest/focus of the outlet) in fact feature in weekly newspapers and they are predominantly concerned with the military conflict. In geographical terms, the majority of issues focus obviously on Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus countryside governorates, since reporters can work with relatively higher freedom in these areas. However, there are reports also from Damascus and Latakia (both under government control). The least represented regions are those under IS control for the obvious security risks, with the most prominent exception to this being ‘Ayn al-Madina, reporting on Dayr al-Zawr under IS (their website is no longer active, the news are published on their Facebook page).
There are emerging publications devoted to children and young adults (Tin Ba‘l, Hintawi, ‘Ata’, Khutuwat Saghira still in activity); to women issues (Mazaya, Yasmin Suriya, Sayyidat Suriya); to human rights issues (Al-Kawakibi, issued in Arabic and English); one specialised in infographics (AIN Infographics). Since 2011, three Kurdish publications have been established: Buyer, Shar, Welat. They publish both in Kurdish and Arabic.