A reporter from one of Syria’s largest pro-government TV networks has fled to Turkey where he talked with the BBC’s James Reynolds. Reynolds says the Syrian TV journalist — Ghatan Sleiba — admitted the network he worked for in Damascus, al-Akhbariya, regularly fabricates stories.
“The ruling Baath Party would issue instructions via a committee which would reach him and his newroom,” says Reynolds. “And he said that there was no point in doing a report that didn’t match their opinions because that report would not go to air.”
Reynolds says Sleiba admitted he briefed those he featured in his TV pieces. “He said that when he went along to interviews, he said Syrian people didn’t really know what to say. He would tell them what to say. He would tell them to say, ‘We love President Bashar al-Assad. We want him to continue ruling,’ ” Reynolds recalled. “And then they would repeat and say this.”
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. The fortunes of the government in Syria continue to shift. A high profile Syrian general has reportedly defected and fled to Turkey. General Manaf Tlas is said to be a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a commander in Assad’s elite Republican Guard. Though that defection has yet to be confirmed, another is certain. Ghatan Sleiba, a reporter with Syrian’s pro government al-Akhbariya TV network, recently fled to Turkey. Once there ye spoke with the BBC’s James Reynolds. Reynolds says Sleiba admitted his TV network fabricated stories to suit Assad’s regime.
James Reynolds: He said that the ruling Baath Party would issue instructions via a committee which would reach him and his newsroom. And he said there was no point in even doing a report which didn’t match their opinions because that simply, that report would not go to air. He said it was a financial incentive for doing reports which matched the views of the Baath Party because you would get a bonus if you did so. That’s essentially how you go paid. And he said when he went along to interviews, he said Syrian people didn’t really know what to say. He would tell them what to say, he would tell them to say oh, we love President Bashar al-Assad and we want him to continue ruling, and then they would repeat and say this.
Werman: What are the dangers if you don’t tow the party line, the Baath Party line?
Reynolds: I think the first danger is more practical financial danger. They simply would not get paid. They would lose their job and they would struggle to find a different, a different form of employment. I think the second danger really came into strong focus on the same day that Mr. Sleiba left Syria, or I beg your pardon, when he arrived in Turkey. We understand that that day the offices of, one of the channel’s offices near Damascus were raided. Seven people were killed by unidentified gun men and the footage of the deaths, of the aftermath of their deaths has been running prominently on the channel and it shows that four pro government journalists now, (whether they were pro government in their hearts or not, it doesn’t matter), but journalists who repeat the government line that they now clearly face a physical threat as well.
Werman: Syrians are not stupid. Don’t they realize that al-Akhbariya is feeding them propaganda and they’re getting simply the government’s point of view?
Reynolds: Exactly a question we asked Mr. Sleiba himself. We said do they believe what you say? And he said, he did in the interview use generalizations. He said they’re very simple people, they believe what we tell them. Now, clearly, that’s just the view of one man who’s just changed country. I think a lot of other Syrians inside Syria would say that is not the case, that they are highly educated country and they’re able to make up their own mind, and that people with internet access are able to get other sources of information and makeup their own minds and not slavishly follow the news brought down to them by the Baath Party.
Werman: Now, Ghatan Sleiba admitted to you that he lied when he practiced journalism. Can you tell us why he left Syria?
Reynolds: We asked him this question and essentially he said he couldn’t continue. He felt that he wanted freedom and in a lot of our interview he spoke in very lofty terms. I suppose they were hard to translate from the Arabic into English about the desire for freedom, a new start for the Syrian people. So he didn’t really give specifics as to what made him leave at the particular time that he left. We did try and pin him down on that, but he said it was a desire for freedom that made him leave.
Werman: The BBC’s James Reynolds speaking to us from the Turkey-Syria border.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.