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Syrian media find common ground

In 2014, opposition reporters in Syria sought to compile a document setting out professional standards for all Syrian media outlets. Free Press Unlimited organized a series of roundtables to facilitate its creation. The resulting document, the Ethical Charter for Syrian Media, has since led to dialogue between opposition and loyalist media.

“When journalists from our side are killed while on duty, we call them ‘martyrs’,” said one of the participants during the first meeting in 2014 as he looked around the table. With the exception of the pro-government media, they were all there: left-wingers and conservatives, Kurds and Arabs, Sunni Muslims, Christians and seculars – all in the same room, though they had often been adversaries in the past. And not everyone agreed with the remark.

“And when a journalist from the regime dies on duty, we just write ‘killed’. Because he is not a martyr,” the first speaker continued. Some participants nodded, while others stayed silent. In times of war, there are often fights about words. In fact, fights about words become one of the major contributors to the war. And here was a fight about to start. Is ‘martyr’ a neutral word for a journalist?

Sharing the same vision for Syria

“During the first roundtables, the participants used to argue and didn’t accept each other at all,” says Wihad Wiess, one of the secretaries of the project. But two years and eight roundtables on, they accepted each other’s characters and ideas. They realized they share the same vision for the future of Syria.”

The Ethical Charter for Syrian Media, as the document is known, has been signed by 43 organizations to date. “It was the first time that different media organizations were brought together to work on a common project and signed one document,” says Wiess.

“This could be one of the few occasions that the professional environment counters anger, hate speech, and above all, war”

Activist Zedoun Al Zoubi facilitated the charter’s creation. Recently, he met someone working with journalists in government-controlled areas of the country. “I discovered that ‘our’ charter was read by fifteen journalists on the other side,” he says. “They had wanted to produce an agreement of their own, but then they found this one. They liked it because it is professional and apolitical.”

Talking to each other

“These journalists showed an interest in signing the charter, and, more importantly, they showed a willingness to meet. This is an extremely important thing for my country and for my own agenda. My agenda that says: I want Syrians to talk to each other.”

“It could be one of the few occasions that the professional environment counters hatred, anger, hate speech, and above all, war,” Al Zoubi says, concluding, “The charter has become a vehicle for peace.”

What is the Ethical Charter?

Most reporters in Syria today were not journalists when the war began. During a series of meetings in Turkey, representatives of Syrian media institutions met to discuss the first Ethical Charter for Syrian Media, intended to serve as a vocational and ethical reference. These meetings were facilitated, organized and moderated by Free Press Unlimited as part of a project to enhance ethical journalism on Syria and by Syrian media professionals. The Swedish International Development Agency is the back donor of the project.

In September 2015,  20 participants signed the charter. This means they commit themselves to acting according to the principles it sets out, including objectivity and integrity, independence in coverage and respect for the truth. A year later, the total number of Syrian media that signed the charter had risen to 43.