Points: 90 // Status: Not Free

192 - Syria

The government and allied businessmen own most newspaper-publishing houses and tightly control editorial policy. Although the government opened up space for private print media in 2001, the owners of most private outlets—including Al-WatanAl-Iqtisad, and Al-Khabar—have close ties to the regime.

As a result, genuinely independent print media are virtually nonexistent. However, a number of weekly or biweekly opposition publications have sprung up in rebel-controlled areas, such as Al-Ghirbal, Ain al-Madina, and Dawdaa. It is estimated that dozens of publications currently operate outside the purview of the regime’s censorship apparatus, but some do face threats from radical Islamist factions. Television and radio broadcasting is, in general, controlled by the state.



Approximately 26 percent of Syrians accessed the internet in 2013, and social-media websites and communication tools such as Skype are increasingly used to transmit news. Opposition groups have begun to use satellite devices as a means to access the internet and telephone service, a method which is protected against regime-enforced blackouts.

Although Article 38 of the constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press, these rights are severely restricted in practice. The 1963 state of emergency law, in place until 2011, empowered the authorities to arrest journalists under ill-defined charges of threatening national security, which in effect nullified the constitution’s protections. 

The 2001 Press Law allows for broad state control over all print media and forbids reporting on topics that are deemed sensitive by the government, such as issues of national security or national unity; it also forbids the publication of inaccurate information. A new media law issued in 2011 prohibits a “monopoly on the media,” guarantees the “right to access information about public affairs,” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists.” However, it bars the media from publishing content that affects “national unity and national security” or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law also forbids the publication of any information about the armed forces. 

As the civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups raged on, the country's media environment has changed. Syrian authorities continued to forcibly restrict coverage of the unrest, and state-run television stations misreported the events of the uprising. The rise in the influence of extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, which controlled territory in parts of the country, severely affected the ability of journalists to report freely. Fearing reprisals from these groups, journalists reporting from the affected areas have begun to self-censor and avoid crossing “red lines.” Both the regime and rival groups of armed rebels try to restrict or control information by attacking journalists and Media organizations.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 28 journalists were killed in Syria in 2013, making the country by far the deadliest place in the world to practice Journalism. Those targeted included foreign, state, and citizen journalists.