Damascus: Excited journalism students at Damascus University gather around a poster reading “Job Opportunity”.
Iran’s Al Alam quietly opened its Syrian sister channel Al Alam Syria last month.
The posters — strewn across campus — offer 150,000 Syrian pounds or $360 (Dh1,321) a month, a handsome salary for journalism graduates desperately searching for work in a country where several news media channels have been closed down.
The Syrian war, now entering its seventh year, has forced many news stations to close shop.
News stations such as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, with anti-government agendas — have also been told they were not welcome and closed shop as well.
This has left journalism graduates with a very limited basket of options: work with state-run television or join Iran’s Al Alam or pro-Iranian channels like Iraqi TV, Hezbollah’s Al Manar.
“Will they force me to wear the chador?” one journalism student joked.
“I will wear whatever they want me to wear with that salary,” another student retorted.
With Syria’s economy in tatters, citizens consider themselves lucky to find employment.
So far, the soft opening of the channel only offers three hours of broadcast programming from 7-10pm.
As it grows it will expand its employee pool to 30 journalists.
The original Al Alam TV was founded back in February 2003, weeks before outbreak of the US invasion of Baghdad, and claims to target 300 million Arabs.
It has news bureaus in Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, with headquarters in Iran.
Khodor Al Ali, a member of the ruling Baath Party HQ in Damascus who is closely associated with the upstart channel promises the channel will be modern and trendy.
But critics say it just yet another propaganda tool by Iran.
“In order to convey Iran’s views on what’s happening across the region, militarily, politically, and culturally, Iran has found it vital to maintain bridges with Arab citizens, through such channels. The Al Alam Channel used to always express the viewpoint of the Syrian government and it never tried, even out of courtesy, to see the point of millions of Syrians suffering from their government’s violence measures,” Fares Al Zahaby, an opposition writer and activist told Gulf News.
This view is shared by members of the Syrian opposition and Gulf states who are increasingly frustrated by Iranian coverage of the affairs in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, seeing it as lopsided and ultimately wrong.
Currently the content of the new channel as well as all other Iranian media outlets in print and visual journalism has focused on Palestinian issues.
The Palestinian issue has been constantly exploited by pro-Iranian media like Hezbollah’s Al Manar who use it to shift attention from domestic issues and to rally popular opinion around non-divisive issues.
“To whom do they broadcast?” asked Al Zahaby, answering his own question by saying: “To those who support them only, in order to solidify them within their camp, especially when it comes to explaining or refuting crimes broadcasted by Arab and international channels. This is how it is throughout the Middle East, one side trying to impose its views on the other.”
The channel will also air dramas and celebrity and entertaining programming. Already production has begun on two television dramas starring Syrian and Iranian actors and will be aired in Ramadan of next year.
It will be dubbed in both Arabic and Persian.