Middle East
4:48 am
Wed November 28, 2012

In Syria, Aleppo Today Is Must-See TV For Survival

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 9:42 am

Every day, dozens of Syrians are killed and wounded in Aleppo, Syria's financial capital. Since July, President Bashar Assad's loyalists have mounted a relentless military campaign to dislodge rebels fighting for control of the northern city. Neither side can afford to lose.

Aleppo was once the largest city in Syria, with more than 4 million people. Many have fled the violence, but for those who remain, a private television station is a lifeline.

The channel is called Aleppo Today, and it has become, literally, "survival TV."

Aleppo Today was already broadcasting daily political reports when Syria's civil war swept into the city in late July. For the first time, Aleppo had a local channel outside government control, funded by local businessmen and run by activists. Now, Aleppo Today is a trusted source for civilians trying to stay alive in a city under siege.

"We are the only TV broadcasting for Aleppo, just for Aleppo," says the news editor, who doesn't want his name published. He fears for his family who live in a city now carved into pockets of rebel-held and regime-controlled neighborhoods.

For security reasons, NPR is not disclosing the location of the newsroom. It's a small office where the staff work in three shifts in order to provide 24-hour coverage. They monitor reports coming in from more than 40 correspondents in Aleppo itself, and another 30 reporters in the suburbs surrounding the city.

The broadcast is fairly simple — just music and still images. But what makes this must-see TV are the news tickers that run at the bottom of the screen.

One carries political news, the other is a constant live-stream update on the fighting. It's a street-by-street account that tracks the movement of government tanks, strikes by air force jets, rebel offensives in the city, even alerts on when the Internet is back up.

"If you are giving the right information, people can protect themselves, telling which areas are safe and which are not," the news editor says.

It's a quiet newsroom. The staff takes calls on headphones and types out reports from the front lines. There have been thousands of videos uploaded from Syria, but the newsroom staff says it checks with multiple sources before publishing a report.

The employees are young — the average age 27 — and well educated. They have families in Aleppo, so they also can't be named. Among them are an economist, a journalist, a German literature major and a lawyer.

"We just want to be able to say that we can speak out and not be killed," the news editor says.

It is a real fear: The channel — which is also available online — is often blocked by the regime, and the staff has been targeted. But every time the broadcasts are jammed, Aleppo Today moves to another satellite channel, and a loyal audience travels with it, in search of news that it truly can use.

Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

We're going to get a sense, now, for what daily life is like in a part of Syria that has been ripped apart by violence.

MONTAGNE: In the city of Aleppo, Syria's financial capital, dozens are killed or injured every day. President Bashar al-Assad's loyalists are trying to dislodge rebels from the city. And many of the civilians trapped by the violence are turning to a private TV news channel for help.

GREENE: It's called Aleppo Today. We might be familiar with morning TV helping us avoid traffic. Well, the broadcasts in Syria are far more serious. They're helping people avoid explosions and fighting.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from the Syrian-Turkish border on what has truly become survival TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: When Syria's civil war swept into its largest city in late July, Aleppo Today was already broadcasting daily political reports. For the first time, Aleppo had a local channel outside government control, funded by local businessmen and run by activists. Now, Aleppo Today is a crucial source of news for civilians trying to stay alive in a city under siege.

(SOUNDBITE OF A RINGING PHONE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are the only TV broadcasting for Aleppo, just for Aleppo.

AMOS: The news editor doesn't want his name published. He fears for his family who live in a city now carved into pockets of rebel-held and regime controlled neighborhoods. We can't even say where the newsroom is; a small office where staff monitors reports coming in from more than 40 correspondents in Aleppo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Our staff is working 24 hours, three shifts working.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMOS: The broadcast is pretty simple just music and still pictures. But what makes this must-see TV are the news tickers that run at the bottom of the screen. One carries political news. But the other is a constant stream of updates on the fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through Translator) Heavy shelling on Anadan, Hyan and by noon, after midnight.

AMOS: The news editor reads off the details, a street-by-street account that tracks the movements of government tanks, strikes by the air force jets, rebel offensives in the city, even alerts on when the Internet is back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through Translator) If you are giving the right information people can protect themselves, telling which areas are safe, which are not.

AMOS: Do you think it cuts down on people dying in Aleppo, when they have this information? Is that your idea on what you are doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Of course. Of course. (Through Translator) For example, if we broadcast the news that certain area, there are clashes or explosions in it. If a person watches that and it's on his way to work and he, you know, does not go to work because of that. I think it lowers the number of death.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING)

AMOS: It's a quiet news room. The staff takes calls on headphones and types out reports from the front lines. There have been thousands of videos uploaded from Syria. But here, the staff says they add the best journalist practices, checking with multiple sources before publishing a report.

The staff is young - average age 27, well educated - they have families in Aleppo, so can't be named.

There's an economist, a journalist, a German literature major, a lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through Translator) We just want to say that we are able to speak out and not be killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

AMOS: It is a real fear, the channel is often blocked by the regime, the staff has been targeted. But every time the broadcasts are jammed, Aleppo Today moves to another satellite channel and a loyal audience finds the news program.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Gaziantep, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.