Rozana broadcasts from its studios in Paris and on the Syrian/Turkish border. Lina Chawaf on the right.
Photo: Radio Rozana
Exile radio station gives Syrians a voice
Syria is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists, and it has become increasingly difficult to report from inside the country. The Sida supported radio station Rozana gives civilians an independent voice with the help of 70 citizen reporters.
If it used to be difficult to report from Syria, it is now close to impossible, as large parts of the territory is controlled by armed groups that have an equally authoritarian view on freedom of expression as the old Assad regime. Many local journalists have been arrested, killed or forced to leave the country.
Lina Chawaf is one of the journalists forced to leave the country after she and her family received death threats. Two years ago she started the radio station Rozana, a Syrian exile radio station funded by Sida and other foreign donors. Rozana broadcasts from Paris and from Turkey, near the border with Syria.
Through the help of 70 citizen journalists, the focus of the station is to cover the plight of the civilians: The civil war has reduced life expectancy by 20 years, created the largest refugee crisis since World War II and the UN says that the country's development has been turned back by 40 years.
"We want to be the voice of the civilian people. We report on how a family lost a child, how a child lost a parent and about the civilian defence that help people during bombings. We recently had a story about a little girl whose school was destroyed and how she suffered since she hadn't finish the whole alphabet yet," says Lina Chawaf while visiting Sida in Stockholm.
The station also provides its listeners with practical advice - how to illuminate their homes when there is no electricity, or keep their children warm and well fed when they barely have any money. Rozana broadcasts over the internet, through satellite and FM radio. Last month their webpage had 75,000 visitors.
Radio listeners tired of propaganda
Lina Chawaf says that people are tired of all the propaganda that is used by the Assad regime and the opposition alike.
"The opposition counters the propaganda of the regime with its own propaganda. When 100 people are killed in a massacre, they say that it was 500 which hurts their credibility among both listeners and international media."
Most of the citizen journalists are very young, Lina Chawaf explains that they are the ones willing to expose themselves to the great risks involved. They work under fake names and every two months they go to the border between Syria and Turkey to receive training from Rozana. They learn the craft of journalism, undertake safety training and get psychological support.
Lina Chawaf notes that it is not easy for reporters to remain neutral in such extreme conditions. She describes Rozana as an opportunity for Syrians to practice freedom of speech and democracy.
"We have been living under an authoritarian system for 40 years and we don't have any sense of democracy and teamwork. If we interview someone from the regime the opposition is upset. I tell them "didn't you want freedom of expression? This is freedom of expression." Even in Rozana we face this problem. We try our best to listen to each other and create a small democracy, but it's not easy."
Building leadership from below
Radio Rozana receives funding from several donors, among them International Media Support which is supported by Sida.
"Access to balanced and diverse information is a prerequisite for people to be able to make their own decisions on how they want to act. We also support grassroots organizations in Syria that are taking the first steps towards building a leadership from below, which many Syrians lack experience of. On that day when there is a political agreement in the country you need a minimal prepardness in civil society, among the people, for the peace to be sustainable", says Malin Stawe, coordinator of the Syria Working Group at Sida.