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Barada TV Puts Syria's 'YouTube Revolution' On Air

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Barada TV Puts Syria's 'YouTube Revolution' On Air

Middle East

Barada TV Puts Syria's 'YouTube Revolution' On Air

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With so much upheaval in the Arab world, Arabic satellite channels have provided round-the-clock coverage from Tunisia to Libya. In Syria, authorities have made sure the revolution will not be televised by banning most international media. But one London-based satellite channel has stepped in.

As NPR's Deborah Amos reports, it's beaming anti-government programming into Syria with financial help from the U.S.

DEBORAH AMOS: In an airless room in a Turkish hotel, Malik Al-Abdeh, the chief editor of Barada TV, produces another two-hour live broadcast.

(Soundbite of TV broadcast)

AMOS: It's not going well. Guests don't show up. The engineer, who runs the camera, the lights and the connection to London, sweats as he sits in the interviewees' chair.

Mr. MALIK AL-ABDEH (Chief Editor, Barada TV): I'm not the guest that's why I'm very stressed at the moment. Sorry about that.

AMOS: Barada TV is definitely a low-tech, barebones broadcast compared to big-budget Arabic satellite channels. But when those channels were barred from Syria, Barada began broadcasting a stream of YouTube videos that young protestors posted online. These images have come to define the Syrian revolution, says Abdeh.

Mr. ABDEH: Some people describe the Egyptian revolution as a Facebook revolution. I think, in Syria, it's the YouTube revolution because all the media coming out of Syria, almost all of it is going through YouTube.

(Soundbite of protest)

AMOS: Syrian protestors often risk their lives, documenting deaths at the hands of the security forces with cell phone cameras and an Internet link. They defy a regime that's tried to isolate the movement and control information.

The most dramatic images are broadcast on traditional outlets, including Western news programs. But protest organizers know they have to continue the flow of pictures, says Abdeh, to keep the story in the public eye. So Abdeh created a daily technology program.

Mr. ABDEH: After the revolution, it became a bit more focused on issues to do with avoiding Internet censorship, on helping bloggers, how to use Facebook safely, even how to record demonstrations. We advise them a high place, like a balcony or a rooftop. You notice the videos which are coming out now are from rooftops and balconies.

AMOS: But the biggest scoop so far was a video recorded far from the demonstrations, in a home in the southern city of Daraa, where a family photographed the tortured body of their 13-year-old son. When the video appeared on YouTube, Barada TV was the first to highlight the graphic scene. The next day, Arabic channels picked up the story, which gained worldwide attention.

Khabbab Alhashimi, with a Syrian opposition group in Saudi Arabia, says Barada does play an important role.

Mr. KHABBAB ALHASHIMI: When people inside see their clips being broadcasted on TV, they feel supported. They believe they are in a very dangerous situation and they need the maximum support.

AMOS: Support for Barada raised questions when the TV channel was linked to secret funding from the U.S. State Department. The diplomatic cable released in April by WikiLeaks showed more than $6 million had been funneled to Syrian opposition groups since 2006. The leak cost Barada credibility inside Syria, says Firas Awad, a businessman from Aleppo.

Mr. FIRAS AWAD (Businessman): America paid $6 million for whom? For people we wish they weren't even Syrians. Who is sitting in London, Paris, New York, whatever? I don't like these kind of people, really.

AMOS: But the channel's chief editor, Malik Al-Abdeh, dismisses the critics as regime supporters. He was in Turkey to take part in the first meeting of the Syrian opposition, which he broadcast on Barada TV.

Mr. ABDEH: I don't think people in Syria care very much, I mean, given the fact that they're being shot at, they're being killed, they're being tortured. They're not really bothered about how a channel gets its funding as long as that channel is supporting the revolution and giving them a helping hand. And that's what we're doing.

AMOS: Barada still gets funding from U.S. sources. But as the Syrian opposition movement grows, he says, more funders are Syrians.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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