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Syrian State TV news anchor defects

Guest post by DaveM

Recently one of Syria State TV’s news anchors announced his defection.

Al Arabiya’s English language channel summarized an interview with him where he basically said that he defected because he was harassed due to his stance against the regime.

Al Arabia TV had a lengthy phone interview with him where he gave the reason for his defection and shed some light into how what went on behind the scenes in Syrian State TV.

What’s striking is that according to him the journalists know exactly what’s going on in Syria, most of them are against the regime, but are under constant supervision by the security forces which restricts what they can say or do.

If you’re a journalist in Syria, chances are (especially at the beginning of your career) you have to work for the state TV or newspapers. You don’t have much of a choice. However when the useful idiots from the free world voluntarily appear on Syrian State TV and add some sort of international credibility to the regime, it’s unforgivable.

Here Ahmad Fakhouri explains what it’s like being a journalist for Syrian State TV. As it was a phone conversation there were a few words which weren’t clear and there were idioms I didn’t pick up on. But they were mainly qualifiers and for the sake of speed I’ve either left them out or summarized what he’s said.

Al Arabiya: Syrian TV presenter Ahmad Fakhouri announced his defection from the Syrian regime because of what he described as harassment that he was subjected to because of his position towards the revolution and regime in Damascus. In a statement Fakhouri considered that the situation inside Syria (state) TV is the opposite of as it appears (to the public), for most of employees and journalists oppose the regime. However they’re under tight supervision by the (state) security apparatus and the intelligence services. And they’re subject to constant interrogations and investigations.

With us via phone is the TV presenter who has defected, Ahmad Fakhouri. Ahmad, welcome to the programme. We start with the question, can you confirm to us the news of your defection from the Syrian regime?

AF: Hello Masoun, I left Syrian State TV more than almost a year ago. Rather I stopped working on …., and since the beginning of the revolution my work was reduced to presenting the news bulletins. Then I quit working for the station more than …. months ago and disappeared from view for a while because of the reasons I mentioned in the statement. There was harassment from the security forces where I underwent interrogations from a number of security branches. The latest one was when I was sort of arrested and was driven to the HQ of the raiding branch (branch of the mukhabarat) in Damascus.

However the Minister of Information ordered my release, then I went into hiding for a long time.

Al Arabiya: How were you able to disappear (from the authorities) after you were released? Didn’t you remain under the gaze of the secret police and security services?

AF: It’s possible for a person to manage himself in this case. Re the means to vanish I resorted to changing my appearance or look (i.e. disguise)….. However I’d like to say that most of the presenters on Syrian State TV and most of the workers in State Radio and Television of whom there is a doubt of their loyalty (to the regime), I’m talking about in their tone or manner if there’s loyalty or not… There’s a position I took. There were also positions taken by friends of mine in rejecting the killing and rejecting dealing with this situation. This was the subject of debate between me and the officials in the beginning of the revolution.

Al Arabiya: Ahmad, permit us to speak in more detail on what goes on inside Syrian State TV and the regime’s media. How did you deal with the wording of the news in the news (reports) which you’re supposed to say in a way which is contrary to reality, and were you required to say it according to the whims of the regime? Can you give us more details?

AF: Let me explain to you a specific case. In regards to a news anchor the news come pre-prepared, and not as is circulated, from the security’s kitchens (idiom)…. There’s a format but the news anchor is not allowed to alter even one word in the news. The news is written down and you have to read it as it is. And as for political discussion (programmes) either you are a presenter who’s loyal to the regime to a large degree where you take sides against the demonstrators and describe them as terrorist groups etc. Or you have to be very reticent. But you can’t ask any question except for those which get the OK from the producer…… So there’s no space for media freedom for any anchor or editor. The TV station has a line and a policy and nobody can step outside it…..

Al Arabiya:
You stated in the statement you issued that you defected from the regime, or your work in Syrian State TV, because of the harassment you were subject to because of your stance on the revolution and the regime in Damascus. What type of harassment were you and your colleagues in Syria TV subject to?

AF: I didn’t defect because of the harassment. I defected because of the stance I took. However I was subject to harassment because of these stances. Since whenever you announce an opposition position in the institutions which are supposed to be full of loyalists, then in the view of the regime that’s a reprehensible crime.

The harassment was via interrogations, whenever you were summoned to the security branch…..

Al Arabiya: Ahmad? We appear to have lost the call. Are you still with us?

AF: Yes I’m still with you. The harassment was when you’d go to the security branch …. your hands and eyes are tied and you are interrogated because you said you were against the regime and its crimes. That’s just freedom of thought. And you could get arrested for that. This type of harassment, I think that this suffices and that’s what (you’re) subjected to. I assure you that this is what a lot of my colleagues in Syria TV and Radio are subject to.

Al Arabiya: Ahmad, a question. Whenever we watch Syria State TV it appears everything is normal and nothing’s happening in Syria, and the demonstrations are just demonstrations. Is the situation inside Syrian State TV the same as what we see on the screen?

AF: I didn’t get the question. However in what I understand your intention is that what appears on the TV screen of Syria TV is the entire truth where it’s possible to take it from only one side….. However if the other point of view isn’t shown then you’re only telling half the truth and are neglecting. So because of that we’re not operating professionally or objectively. The regime doesn’t make that possible, it’s regime’s TV, not the people’s TV.

Al Arabiya: Ahmad, final question.What are your plans for the future?

AF: My future plans, I’m working on doing commentary for documentary films. I’m still a journalist. I’m able to write for a lot of newspapers and websites. By Allah’s permission Syria will be free and proud so I can return there and work in the profession which I really like. I also hope there’ll be a real media which represents the entire spectrum of Syrian people and not a media which shouts in the name of the regime. Not one for one side at the expense of the other.

Al Arabiya: I was wanting to ask you where you are, if you’re inside Syria or if you’ve left. But there are security requisites so I’m going to restrain myself from asking. Unless you’d like to tell us.

I’m outside Syria, thank God and by his grace. I got out via the Free Syria Army.

Al Arabiya: Thank you very much. Defecting Syrian TV presenter Ahmad Fakhouri.