Audio, visual and written media have been under the direct control of the regime for the past 45 years. Both the Syrian television and its sister, the Syrian satellite channel, are state – run. The three daily papers, Al – Ba’ath, Al – Thawra, and Tishreen are controlled by the Ba’ath Party and the Syrian authorities. The same applies to all local newspapers in provinces such as Al – Jamaheer, Al – Orooba, Al – Fida’ and others. The main radio station reflects the views of the regime and the Ba’ath party. Furthermore, it is against the law to criticise any of the senior employees at these establishments. A case in point is the lawsuit filed by the director of Syrian TV, Diana Jabbour against Fouad Shorbaji, the director of the privately – owned Addunia satellite channel. The latter is a commercial – based entertainment channel founded by an influential army officer and broadcasts from the free zone in Damascus. Jabbour filed a 10 – million – lira defamation suit against Shorbaji over two articles he had written criticising her performance. The state – controlled court sentenced Shorbaji to three days of prison, ordered him to pay one hundred liras in punitive damages and 200,000 liras in compensatory damages to Jabbour.
Authorities banned the publication of issue 104 of Addabbour Magazine scheduled for distribution on the 29th of January 2008. The management had to leave out a controversial article and change the cover to avoid incurring losses. The General Institution for Publication and Distribution refrained from distributing the February issue of the Economic Society magazine over an article by Ayman Al – Shoffi about the fact that many Syrian officials hold a dual nationality, mainly American and Canadian. Authorities banned indefinitely the distribution of the London – based Al – Hayat newspaper on the 2nd of October 2008. The newspaper had criticised the Syrian president for meeting with the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Euro – Mediterranean Partnership, and other issues.
The Journalist Mazen Darwish was sentenced to ten days in prison on the 23rd of June 2008 for libel over an investigative report of a murder that occurred on the 12th of January 2008 in which he criticised several government bodies. The human rights activist Badi’ Dak Al – Bab was sentenced to six months in prison for writing an article about “Damascus: Arab Capital of Culture 2008”. Osama Edward Qarrio was arrested for writing an article entitled “No Gas, No Electricity, No Diesel”
Reporters without Borders’ annual Index of Press Freedom placed Syria in the 159th position on its list of 173 countries for the year 2008.
Having lost most means of expression, Syrian citizens turned to the internet but Syrian authorities placed many restrictions on the use of the internet through monopolising the service. Internet cafes are required by law to keep a record f all customers’ personal details. The government purchased internet surveillance equipment to keep track of bloggers’ activities. Many were arrested on charges of spreading lies to weaken the nation and nationalist sentiments. Many political websites that cover news from Syria and the Arab and Islamic world have been blocked. According to some sources, it is not possible to access more than 200 websites in this category alone.
Following is a list of examples of the websites that have been banned during 2008.
Jidar.com: An intellectual/cultural website established by the poet, Khalaf Ali Al – Khalaf, in 2005. Before it was finally shut down, the website was hacked into and damaged several times. Al – Khalaf was also summoned by security agencies on several occasions.
Syrianews.com: A news website owned by Firas Tlas and run by Nidhal Ma’louf. Despite the fact it reflects the views of the government, the website, established in 2000, and was shut down on the 16th of February 2008.
AdDarbasiyah: A website concerned with Kurdish affairs. It was shut down on the 10th of March 2008.
Rojavo.net: The website of Human Rights Association in Syria (MAF)
Alnazahanews.com: The website was blocked in 2007. The website administrator, Abdullah Ali, launched a new website (alnazaha.org) in March 2008 but he was arrested on the 30th of July 2008 by the Information Branch of the State Security Department. Ali was released on the 12th of August 2008 after the website was finally shut down.
Anhri.net: The website of the Arab Network for Human Rights. The site was blocked on the 29th of September 2008 after the Syria page (anhiri.net/Syria) was blocked on the 25th of September 2008.
Katib.org: A blogger’s page.
Zamanelwasl.net: After the website was blocked, administrators launched a new website (zamanelwasl.com) but the latter was blocked in November 2008 even though the newspaper had satisfied all the requirements of the ministry of communications.
Wikipedia.com: The Arabic version of the website is blocked in Syria.
Authorities arrested Adnan Hamdan, a university student born in 1979 and held him in the Palestine Branch. Hamdan used to work as the director of programmes at the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.
Humam Ahmed Al – Haddad, born in 1980, was arrested on the 5th of May 2008 over his contributions to several websites and his participation in a workshop on “Internet and Censorship”. He was released on the 10th of September 2008. Prior to that, authorities had arrested the blogger Tariq Biassi and sentenced him to three years in prison for weakening nationalist sentiments.