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Barada TV Puts Syria’s ‘YouTube Revolution’ On Air

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
June 13, 2011

In this spring of revolutions, Arabic satellite channels have defined the story by providing around-the-clock coverage and commentary from Tunisia to Libya.

But that’s not the case in Syria, where authorities ensure the revolution won’t be televised by banning most international media.

A London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, has stepped in, beaming anti-government programming into Syria — with financial support from the U.S.

‘The YouTube Revolution’

In an airless room in a Turkish hotel, Malik Al-Abdeh, the chief editor of Barada TV, produces a two-hour live broadcast.

It’s not going well. Guests don’t show up. The engineer, who runs the camera, the lights and the connection to London, sweats as he sits in the interviewees’ chair.

“I’m not the guest — that’s why I’m very stressed at the moment,” he says.

Barada TV is definitely a low-tech, barebones broadcast compared to big-budget Arabic satellite channels. But when those channels were barred from Syria, Barada began broadcasting a stream of YouTube videos that young protesters posted online. These images have come to define the Syrian revolution, says Abdeh.

“Some people describe the Egyptian revolution as a Facebook revolution, I think,” he says. “In Syria, it’s the YouTube revolution because all the media coming out of Syria, almost all of it is going through YouTube.”

Syrian protesters often risk their lives, documenting deaths at the hands of the security forces with cell phone cameras and an Internet link. They defy a regime that has tried to isolate the movement and control information.

The most dramatic images are broadcast on traditional outlets, including Western news programs. But protest organizers know they have to continue the flow of pictures, says Abdeh, to keep the story in the public eye. So Abdeh added a daily technology program.

“After the revolution, it became a bit more focused on issues to do with avoiding Internet censorship, on helping bloggers, how to use Facebook safely, even how to record demonstrations,” he says. “We advise them a high place, like a balcony or a rooftop. You notice the videos that are coming out now are from rooftops and balconies.”

But the biggest scoop so far was a video recorded far from the demonstrations in a home in the southern city of Daraa, where a family photographed the tortured body of their 13-year-old son. When the video appeared on YouTube, Barada TV was the first to highlight the graphic scene. The next day, Arabic channels picked up the story, which gained worldwide attention.

Khabbab Alhashimi, with a Syrian opposition group in Saudi Arabia, says Barada plays an important role.

“When people inside see their clips being broadcast on TV, they feel supported,” he says. “They believe they are in a very dangerous situation — and they need the maximum support.”

Credibility Questioned

Support for Barada raised questions when the TV channel was linked to secret funding from the U.S. State Department. A diplomatic cable released in April by WikiLeaks showed more than $6 million had been funneled to Syrian opposition groups since 2006. The leak cost Barada credibility inside Syria, says Firas Awad, a businessman from Aleppo.

“America paid $6 million for whom?” he says. “We wish they weren’t even Syrians. Who is sitting in London, Paris, New York, whatever? I don’t like these kind of people, really.”

But Abdeh, Barada’s chief editor, dismisses the critics as regime supporters. He was in Turkey to take part in the first meeting of the Syrian opposition, which he broadcast on Barada TV.

“I don’t think people in Syria care very much, given the fact that they are being shot at, they are being killed, they are being tortured,” Abdeh says. “They are not really bothered about how a channel gets its funding as long as that channel is supporting the revolution and giving them a helping hand — and that’s what we are doing.”

Barada still gets funding from U.S. sources, but as the Syrian opposition movement grows, he says, more funders are Syrians. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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