“Forbidden.” This is the message you receive, in English, if you try to visit hotmail.com or a host of other off-limits sites in Syria. I made my friend show me the page just for the novelty of seeing such blatant censorship. Of course some people find ways of bypassing such controls through an anonymous proxy or other methods, but it is not easy to do and is time consuming – when you pay for each minute of a local call, time online can add up.
I was discussing the American attack on the Syrian border and the subsequent capture of five Syrian soldiers by the occupation forces since I wanted to see how their detention had been perceived in Syria. It was from this story that I learned how lucky Lebanon is to have a free press and how important it is to nurture publications like The Middle East Reporter and The Daily Star.
“The Syrian people didn’t hear about the attack,” said one person I met. “Unless you have satellite TV and saw it on the news, people didn’t know about it. So when they read about the Syrian soldiers coming home after being detained they had no idea where or by whom. Why were these soldiers coming home? Where had they been? But they were given a big fanfare.” One thing I noticed, however, was the sea of satellite dishes perched on every available inch of what seemed like every apartment, from the meanest hovel to the tallest tower.
So while the state-run newspaper offers limited and biased news according to the presidential agenda, many people have access to alternative sources of information like Al-Jazeera or Future TV (Lebanese), along with programming from all over the Middle East. In addition there is access to French news and shows, as well as the BBC and MTV, though the latter has limited penetration in Syria compared to Lebanon, where nearly everyone is at least bilingual. There are many bilingual people in Syria, but to a lesser degree than in Lebanon.
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Jul 8th, 2003