Thursday, 22 December 2016

Syrian station Radio Alwan defies war to continue broadcasting

A woman in a scarf touches her headphones as she speaks into a microphone.

 'Putting a radio program to air is challenging at the best of times, but imagine putting a program to air from inside a war-torn country. That's exactly what the independent Syrian station Radio Alwan manages to do every day.

 "It started in 2013, after the revolution," Radio Alwan's deputy chief executive Sami al Joundi said. "We are the radio station for the Syrian people. We needed to cover what was really happening inside our country because the Syrian regime media was not correct."

 While Radio Alwan used to have offices in Aleppo and Idlib, it is now far too dangerous to operate in most of those regions.

 "It became very dangerous operating from inside Syria," says Mr Joundi. "Syrian regime and radical groups were targeting us. Al Nusra and other groups were attacking us. We wouldn't be able to continue if we stayed in Syria. We had to move our main office to Istanbul so we could continue doing our work."

 Mr Joundi said they try to speak with their staff every day to make sure they're alive and safe, but sometimes making contact with them is unnervingly difficult.

 "We call them every day," he said. "Sometimes we can't get through because the bombing has destroyed phone and internet lines, so it can be very nerve-racking."

 Radio Alwan covers news and current affairs. It hears from experts in psychology to give Syrian parents information about how to care for their children during the war, and technology experts who explain about how to get mobile and internet coverage during the fighting. There is a women's program, made by a Syrian woman in Idlib, as well as drama and comedy shows.

 "Our comedy show is being written, acted and edited from inside Syria," Mr Joundi said. "They make us laugh, we make them laugh, and we are able to broadcast this to our people in Syria."

 Radio Alwan's most popular drama series is called Sad Northern Nights.

 "It's a story about a Syrian family which many people can relate to," Mr Joundi said. "The main character is a single mother with her son. Her husband was killed during the revolution and she's trying to flee the country. Throughout her journey from the southern part of Syria she passes through many different locations and meets lots of different people. It's the same thing you hear in the news but in a different way — a less brutal way."

 Mr Joundi said it was difficult to remain hopeful considering what was happening inside his country.

 "The real story is being lost. People have started to forget why the Syrian people went out and started the revolution demonstrations in the first place. Instead, it's shifted to extremism. We're trying to not miss any details of what's happening in Syria and be on the side of the people only." '

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