Audio-visual and read mass media are sill possessed by the State. No opinion other than the official one that supports the policy of the standing regime and the ruling Ba’thist Party is allowed to be published. All the newspapers that are issued in Syria are either official or semi-official. They represent the Authority or the parties of the Progressive Front allied with it. In addition to the papers Tishreen, al-Ba’th, al-Thawrah and Syrian Times (in English), the parties of the Front issue newspapers that are still of meager circulation and influence and are unknown to the Syrian street, such as the fortnightly paper al-Mithaq (the Socialist Union—Safwan Qudsi), al-Nur paper (the Communist Party), Aafaq paper (the Socialist Arabs’ Movement), al-Wihdawi paper (the Party of Socialist Unionists). Al-Nur paper remains the most circulated among them due to publishing articles that contain some criticism of the Government’s policies.
While the weekly Abyad wa Aswad (white and Black) is salable on the grounds that it is the only independent political magazine, it is not distant from the circles of the ruling authorities, for its owner in the son of the new Syrian Defense Minister.
The former Minister of Information Adnan Umran personally contributed to the obstacles in the path of issuing the weekly Al-Domari till the former Prime Minister passed a decision to cancel its permit on July 1, 2003.
A study mentions that fifteen permits granted to newspapers and magazines have been cancelled since 2000, when for the first time it was theoretically permitted to have non-governmental press in the country. It is worth mentioning that many of the permits were often granted to advertising, scientific, athletic, cultural or child publications. Many of the permits were cancelled because of the hard conditions and complications imposed on publications.
All newspapers, magazines and publications in Syria are subject to the publication act that restricts the media freedoms and that was decreed in September 2001and entitles the Prime Minister to cancel any permit granted to any publication on the proposal of the Minister of Information without presenting any reason (Article 22).
Presswork in Syria still requires securing a permit in advance from the Ministry of Information and the security bodies in Syria. Such bodies still prevent the journalists from practicing their work or deprive them of their permits because of their impartial covering of the Syrian official policies. Some of them are subject to be summoned. The journalist Yasin al-Hajj Salih, who writes in al-Nahar Lebanese newspaper and other newspapers, was summoned to the Political Security Department in Damascus and was harshly threatened and warned against writing ‘destructive articles’!! The reporter of the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustur, the Jordanian citizen Suhaib al-Tal was also summoned to interrogation, he was arrested and then released on 7/11/2003. In early September 2003 the Syrian journalist Basil al-Rifa’i was exposed to severe vexations and was forced to evacuate the house he had hired from the local authorities, on the grounds of writing critical articles against the corruption prevalent in al-Hasakah Province.
The ‘Syrian Information Society’ and the ‘General Directorate for Communications’ control the Internet in Syria. Its black (blocking) list contains thousands of informational, human and other websites, particularly those interested in Syria. For instance, they have blocked the website of Akhbar al-Sharq, which is specialized in the news of Syria. Prior to that the websites of Ilaf and Maktoob had been blocked. They blocked the website of the Electronic Alraei (Opinion) Newspaper, which is published in Paris by the Communist Party—Political Bureau. Then on 21/3/2004 they blocked the website ‘Kulluna Shuraka Fil Watan’ ‘All 4 Syria.org’. Last May they blocked the Kurdish websites (Qamishlo.com, Amuda.com and Ifrin.net). They have blocked the website of the Syrian Human Rights Committee for several years, but they raised the blockage on the website of ‘hotmail’. International organisations defending the press freedom consider Syria as restricting the Internet freedom. The Organisation of Article 19 classifies the Authority in Syria as one of the ten regimes that are most inimical to the Internet and most restrictive of its uses so much so that many Syrian citizens have not had the chance to browse it even once in their lives. The subscribers in the Internet in Syria do not exceed 80 thousand subscribers in Syria—from among 18 million Syrians. Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, who was arrested in early 2003 with the charge of browsing the website Akhbar al-Sharq and printing and distributing some of its materials was tried on 14/12/2003 by the State Security Supreme Court and was transferred to the prison of Sednaya, which suggests that his term of imprisonment may be prolonged. The Supreme State Security Court subsequently sentenced him on the 20th of the current June to two and a half years imprisonment.
On 11/4/2004 the Security Authorities arrested Fa’iq al-Mir in the street in the city of Lattakia because of keeping a copy of the electronic “alraei” newspaper. Then they arrested his friend Muhammad Jum’ah Quoban merely for contacting him on his mobile before they released him on 10/6/2004 after accusing him of propagating false news and raising disputes among the members of the community. It is noteworthy that Quoban had been imprisoned for 17 years before. On 9/6/2004 the journalist writer Jihad Nasrah was summoned by the Branch of Internal Security for interrogation on critical writings and articles he had written. He was then released after receiving open warning and covert threat as to the consequences of what he writes.
As to the broadcasting stations, TV stations and the Satellite Channel, they are all possessed exclusively by the State, and they belong to ‘the General corporation for Broadcasting and TV’. Abul-Razzaq Salim the reporter of the ‘Al-Arabiyya’ Satellite Channel was arrested during covering the events of al-Qamishli on 15/3/204 and a few days later he was released after confiscating the audio and video tapes and warning him.