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 Hibr, a weekly magazine from Aleppo, Enab Baladi, a weekly magazine, firstly printed in Daraya and now in northern Syria) 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 Haidara 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). However, according to the WAN-IFRA World Press Trend 2016 report, in 2015 print newspapers had an average monthly reach of 10.5 percent, once again illustrating that Syrians have largely shifted to the Internet for their news. 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. However, due to recent tensions mounted between Rami Makhluf and his cousin Bashar al-Asad, since 2019 Al-Watan has started to openly criticise some influential businessmen linked to the ruling family, which is a very rare move for a Syrian media outlet.
Opposition-controlled territories and Kurdish-majority zones
The majority of opposition-alligned publications 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 and Idlib 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).
There are emerging publications devoted to children and young adults (‘Ata’ and Ghiras still in activity); to women issues (none of them is still printed, but Mazaya continues posting news on their Facebook pages and Sayyidat Suriya has a website in Arabic and German); to human rights issues (Al-Kawakibi, issued in Arabic and English, that ceased publication at the beginning of 2017); one specialised in infographics (AIN Infographics that is still available in electronic format). In June 2016 an online weekly magazine called Iba’ was launched. Although it portrays itself as an independent media platform, observers assume the Iba’ network is affiliated with the islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). After an online initial circulation, hard copies of the magazine started to be published and distributed. Even though not much is known about the processes of printing and distribution, local sources confirmed to scholar Haid Haid that copies of Iba’ are usually handed out by individuals in public places. Therefore, the paper does not have a reliable distribution system, nor fixed distribution points and its propagation is largely limited to the main urban centres and HTS’s strongholds.
Since 2011, three Kurdish publications have been established: Buyer, Shar, Welat that now are available only online, though. They publish both in Kurdish and Arabic. In Kurdish-controlled regions, the distribution is subject to the approval of the local autonomous administration.