Murshid al-Nayef

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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“I'm extremely disquieted by the fact that we, as journalists, bore false witness to all the events happening in Syria.”

Murshid al-Nayef was born in 1968 in the town of Tal Rif'at in the northern Aleppo countryside. He completed school there, and then went to Damascus University to study journalism. He graduated in 1991, and then worked for three years at the cultural section of Al-Jamahir newspaper published in Aleppo. He later worked in the economic and Arab and international economy sections of the government newspaper, Al-Thawra.

Murshed says that his specialized work in the economic press gave him an insight into the country's economic decision-making, and into how massive corruption was under the intelligence services.

He says, “"In Al-Thawra newspaper, there were senior journalists but there was no press. No one was able to use his skills or professional abilities. Journalists there, like in all the regime's media organizations, were only third class journalists who were made to stay in the shadows, away from decision making. Their opinion was not taken into consideration in many of the media campaigns, whether political, economic or otherwise.

He continues “In all the countries of the world, media always expresses the cultural situation or what society has become. Syrian media, however, expressed the oneness of the regime and its despotism, which did not allow any space for journalistic work to express what was happening in Syrian society. It has always been the case that news items were censored only because they concerned a director supported by the intelligence services. Thus, many pages were torn up before they were sent to the printing press because they contained reports or references to corrupt senior intelligence members.”

According to Murshid, honest journalists were helpless, so would write articles that vaguely referred to corruption cases, or perhaps wrote in Lebanese newspapers. The reason they did not dare to cover taboo subjects was the brutality of the Syrian intelligence services. Murshid says that over time, the regime was able to plant a self-censorship mechanism into every journalist. Journalists knew beforehand what could be published and what could not. They worked on this basis. Moreover, the editor of the publication would be the one in direct contact with the intelligence services. The intelligence service kept all Syrians under control, including journalists, who understood the limits.

Economic press is a recent term in Syria and appeared about 15 years ago, says Murshid. It has always suffered from structural weakness due to the lack of experience of its employees, who would report abstract numbers in the news and economic reports, without explaining the context. This meant that readers could not understand the true meaning of the content, or compare the performance of a given index or institution against the previous results. The material was published as it was received from the official news agency SANA, a place where most employees did not have a minimum level of professionalism, and those who were highly competent were brushed aside, much like journalists in other fields.

Murshid says about the mechanism used by the three official newspapers in Syria, Revolution, Ba'ath, and Tishrin, to deal with various forms of news and press articles, If you browse the three official publications, you find them very similar to the point that they are almost identical in terms of editorials, front page news and social coverage. Economic news, for example, is covered by a group of journalists who are in direct contact with the intelligence services and, therefore, have a close relationship with officials or economic decision makers. When a news story about a particular governmental institution is covered, the same news is published in the three newspapers at the same time. The reason is that the director of this institution has a direct relationship with the journalists of the other newspapers and, therefore, the same news is published the following day. This is why the press is known as one of the corruption system ‘lanes’, a kind of corruption which affects all sectors in Syria.”

In 2006, Murshid had the opportunity to work at “Sham TV, Syria's first private satellite channel owned by Syrian businessman Akram Al-Jundi. The channel tried to work according to international standards in terms of training of cadres, content development, and salary systems etc. but the experiment was short-lived. A decision was taken by the Minister of Information to terminate it a few months after the start of its experimental broadcast because it represented dissent from the established state control of Syrian society. "I'm extremely disquieted by the fact that we, as journalists, bore false witnesses to all the events happening in Syria," Murshid says.