Middle East

Radio Pirates Risk Dangers Of War To Reach Syrian People

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In Syria, the media is mostly state-controlled, but opposition activists have found a way to get their message out: pirate radio. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Obai Sukar, who co-founded one such station that broadcasts in Syria.


Opposition activists have found a way to get their message delivered inside Syria, where the media is otherwise state-controlled: Pirate radio. One of those radio stations is Radio Al-Kul, which means Radio for Everyone. Here's what it sounds like.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Obai Sukar is one of the founders of Radio Al-Kul. He joins us from Istanbul, which is where he broadcasts his programs from. Welcome to the show.

OBAI SUKAR: Hi, welcome.

MARTIN: First off, if you don't mind, explain to us how this works. You are based across the border from the fighting in Turkey. How do your reach your audiences in Syria?

SUKAR: Basically, when we opened this radio station, the idea was to stay away from the conflict. We have a studio in Istanbul. We have actually two studios - one for live and one for production - and everything we do is streamed through the Internet. And what happens is that the people inside Syria, the activists we have, they take the signal from the Internet and they rebroadcast it as FM.

MARTIN: And what are you putting out on the air? Is it daily news about the violence or warnings about dangerous areas?

SUKAR: We have news. We have kids' shows. We have comedy shows. We have a show for cars. I think we are trying to get this, you know, get the Syrian people get used to freedom of media, freedom of speech, and not to be afraid of talking and, you know, expressing themselves.

MARTIN: You do have a particular perspective though. Radio Al-Kul is linked to the opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, is that right?

SUKAR: Well, our headquarters is, you know, been shared with the Syrian National Coalition. But we are not, you know, affiliated with them in a way that we are their spokesman. I mean we criticize them. We - everything happens wrong, whoever does it, we criticize them. There are no, you know, limits to what we, you know, try to reach.

MARTIN: I imagine you have the same problem many of us have with trying to get information on the ground in Syria.

SUKAR: Exactly.

MARTIN: How do you know what's going on? You're in Istanbul across the border. Do you have reporters in Syria who are giving you the lay of the land?

SUKAR: We're building our correspondent teams right now. After they've done training, we're going to send them inside Syria. Right now, we're using, you know, shared information that everybody is using, you know; the same, you know, people who speak to Sky News, Al Jazeera, to CNN.

MARTIN: Is it dangerous for you staff and the activists that you're working with?

SUKAR: It is extremely dangerous. We get calls, there's this bombing or there's a, you know, this airstrike. OK. You just tell them to run for their lives, you know, just leave the equipment as it is, your lives are more important than everything else. And you hope that they're still alive. So it is dangerous.

MARTIN: Why did you decide that you had to leave?

SUKAR: Well, first of all, because I was an activist from the beginning of the revolution movement. And I got this tip from a friend: Your name might have been, you know, on the wanted list or - so try to, you know, flee the country as soon as you can. What happened is my wife got also a threat because she was a doctor and she used, you know, to work in a government hospital. But she also sympathized with the revolution which is, you know, a crime.

MARTIN: Do you think you'll ever go back to Syria?

SUKAR: Well, that's a tough question. Sometimes I, you know, I think that I might not go back or it might take a lot of time. We might not see, you know, the fruit of what we are doing. Maybe our kids will get, you know, the country that we hope or the, you know, the democracy country. But it is worth a try. I mean it's our country. If you don't want to work, you know, and sacrifice for your country, you know, what's the point?


MARTIN: That was Obai Sukar. He is the co-founder of the pirate radio station, Radio Al-Kul in Syria. You're listening to NPR News.

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