Regulatory authorities

On August 2011, President Bashar al-Asad approved a new media law, which establishes a National Media Council (NMC). This is linked to the cabinet and regulates the information sector under the new law. Among other duties, the NMC sets conditions for licenses, issues them to private media outlets and specifies rules on funding. However, the NMC lacks independence, effectively serving as a mouthpiece for the government’s media policy and a vehicle for state propaganda. Although the law requires authorities to consult the NMC before detaining or arresting journalists, searching or seizing their equipment, or investigating their activities, this process is a mere formality. The NMC is the sole entity authorised to issue media credentials to journalists and - according to the mentioned report by Freedom House - in March 2014 it began to crack down on outlets that provided press cards and other professional identification to journalists without going through official channels. The NMC maintains a stringent registration and licensing regime and closely monitors outlets to ensure compliance. The NMC also regularly criticises media coverage displeasing to the government and works to intimidate outlets into taking a pro-government editorial line. For example - as Freedom House reports - in September 2016, the NMC criticised outlets for using allegedly sympathetic language to describe armed opposition groups and insisted that they instead refer to such groups as “terrorists.”

On 15 August 2014, the Kurdish Supreme Committee, the governing body in the Kurdish majority areas of Syria, established the Yekîtiya Ragihandina Azad (Union of Free Media - YRA). The YRA, based in Qamishli, is an official body with numerous press-related functions that functions as a sort of Information Ministry. It is the only official body that oversees media organisations that want to work in Rojava. Therefore, all news media in the Kurdish cantons must request and obtain permits from the YRA in order to be able to operate in the area. Some reports suggest that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in Rojava, exercises undue influence over the body to monitor and control independent media. According to Reporters Without Borders, the PYD and its henchmen have no qualms about arresting or even abducting news and information providers whom they see as too critical, in order to silence them and intimidate the others. Also, many news providers report that they must keep the security forces (Asayish) informed of their movements. The authorities argue that such authorisation is necessary for the journalists’ safety. Nevertheless, a variety of print and broadcast outlets are generally allowed to operate, including those that are critical of the ruling party.