Pan-Arab/International TV and Syrian TV stations and news websites are the dominant source of news. According to the findings of the 2016 survey by FPU et al , Sama TV (a pro-government channel) is the most watched TV source. Other pro-government channels (such as Al-Ikhbariyya Al-Suriyya, Al-Fada’iyya and Addounia) feature high in the list. Only a few non government-controlled channels are among the ten most followed stations, such as Halab al-Yawm and Orient TV. With regard to pan-Arab/International TV, unlike local TVs, where pro-government channels dominate, the top-ranked pan-Arab/International TV stations tend to be mixed between pro- and anti-Syrian government channels. In early 2011, trying to counter the narrative spread by pan-Arab Al-Jazira and Al-Arabiya, authorities started a campaign to substitute satellite dishes with centralised cable TV systems for each building, under the pretence of protecting “urban decorum.” Eventually they gave up, but since then Al-Mayadin satellite television (closely tight to Iran) has been launched and a Russian channel in Arabic was enforced. This was considered a more effective and feasible way to counterbalance the rhetoric used by the two pro-opposition pan-Arab TVs, respectively owned by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Syrian television, like all the other media, is tightly controlled. Syrian channels are mostly owned and controlled by the Syrian Arab Television and Radio Broadcasting Commission (SATRBC) connected to the Ministry of Information. Currently, the state operates two terrestrial TVs (Al-Ula and Al-Thaniya), three state satellite channels (Al-Fada’iyya, Al-Ikhbariyya also known as Syria News and Suriya Drama) and one private station, Addounia. Owned by another consortium of seven damascene businessmen close to the Asads, Addounia started its broadcastings in 2007 and during the uprising it has been submitted to EU, US and Arab League sanctions. Like Al-Watan newspaper, Addounia TV is apparently free of violating the official red lines, but when it happens it is always in order to defend the government’s stances against “fabricated accusations.” In September 2012, Syrian television channels - including Addounia TV - were removed from Arabsat and Nilesat. After an 18-month suspension, Addounia returned on Nilesat. In February 2009, the Syrian authorities closed the religious television station Al-Da‘wa only three months after the station officially opened.
Government-controlled media, such Al-Sama, Al-Ikhbariyya, Al-Fada’iyya and Addounia are the most followed in areas falling under government control, but also register a significant following in opposition-held areas (FPU et al, 2016). This may suggest that audience in government-controlled regions is almost fully supportive of government-controlled media. Or that people living in government-controlled areas fear to divulge whether they follow opposition media outlets.
Opposition-controlled territories and Kurdish-majority zones
Between 2009 and 2010, another private satellite TV operated in Syria, avoiding domestic media restrictions: Orient TV, owned by Ghassan Abbud, a Syrian businessman opposed to the government. Just one year and a half after it started its official broadcasts (from the United Arab Emirates, but with reporters inside Syria) authorities closed its Damascene office in July 2010. This closure was a response to the station’s popular talk shows on social, economic and cultural issues, viewed by authorities as a podium for civil society. Prominent opposition channels like Halab al-Yawm (which broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) and Orient TV are barely watched in government-controlled regions, but these rank as the top three in opposition-controlled areas. Here the 2016 FUP findings reveal that, even if a slight majority follows opposition media, a significant minority also follows government-controlled media.
Kurdish parties like the PYD and the KDP are the only ones that can control - more or less directly - television stations in Rojava. The PYD opened Ronahi TV in 2012, whilst in 2007 the KDP established its TV channel, Zagros TV, in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, from where it broadcasts to Syria.