The series of earthquakes that have struck Syria and Turkey since early February have left over 50,000 people dead and tens of thousands more displaced. In Syria, the earthquakes have compounded an enduring humanitarian catastrophe, touching regions worst affected by the civil war.
At least a dozen Syrian, Kurdish, and Turkish journalists were killed in the earthquakes, according to the Association Journalism & Citoyenneté. Among the casualties: Yaman al-Khateeb, winner of the 27th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy War Reporter Award 2020, and his family.
For well over a decade, GFMD’s members and partners, including Free Press Unlimited, International Media Support, NewsLabTurkey, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and Radio Rozana, have been on the frontlines in providing assistance to journalists and exiled media in both countries.
Radio Rozana, affiliated with Community Media Forum-Europe, has been covering the humanitarian crisis on the ground. Rozana’s correspondents based in Gaziantep, close to the Turkish-Syrian border, have been providing live coverage on the situation in Syria, where humanitarian actors face a number of ethical and logistical dilemmas. In a country split between territories controlled by the Assad government, opposition, and extremist groups, coordinating relief efforts is a problematic affair. The Assad regime and its allies have long been accused of diverting international aid away from the communities it is intended for.
Meanwhile, the repression of independent media and restrictions on access to social media have been complicating relief efforts in Turkey as well, where a large number of Syrian journalists, writers, and intellectuals live in exile.
Press freedom violations include the detention and censorship of journalists who have dared to criticize the Erdogan government’s handling of international aid, reports the Media Freedom Rapid Response project.
The challenge of coordination
Between 2013 and 2016, GFMD pioneered coordination efforts between donors, diplomats, and media assistance organisations to provide support to journalists in Syria as well as exiled media in the diaspora.
A white paper produced by GFMD and its partners was used to advocate on behalf of Syrian journalists working in the most difficult of circumstances. In the context of an increasingly complex conflict where accurate information was (and remains) hard to come by, the importance of supporting an independent, professional, and pluralistic media sector in Syria and in the diaspora cannot be stressed enough.
“Syria coordination under the GFMD’s framework was launched in 2013. Between 2013 and 2016, a number of meetings took place, starting with the international media development organisations, who were joined by the Syrian media representatives as early as 2014. During 2014 and 2015, meetings in Istanbul were attended by as many as 60 participants representing three groups of stakeholders … the GFMD’s Syria coordination presented a real opportunity to become a mechanism for information-sharing and lessons learnt among international media assistance groups; create more comprehensive understanding of the changing Syrian media sector; provide a venue for Syrian media to get to know one another better and start perceiving itself as a sector; provide a venue for Syrian media to formulate their needs.” – Briefing Paper, ‘Syrian Independent Exile Media,’ International Media Support (November 2020)
GFMD’s engagement in Syria would become a blueprint for future media assistance coordination efforts — most recently in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, competition between funders, shifting diplomatic priorities, and declining donor interest in a protracted conflict remain key obstacles that call into question the long-term effectiveness of media assistance efforts in Syria. It is to be hoped that this latest tragedy will bring renewed donor attention to Syria and the region more broadly.
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