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Middle East

Syrian propaganda, in German

Everything is great in Syria - at least according to the German-language news broadcast by Radio Damascus. Syria's state broadcaster is trying to improve the government's image abroad with foreign language news.

"Syrian forces have renewed their resolve to eliminate terrorism and its supporters," the newscaster reads in Damascus, speaking in German. For several minutes, he lists the latest fronts on which the Syrian government has repulsed its enemies. "In Aleppo, Syrian army units killed a large number of terrorists who were trying to break into a barracks," he says, adding that dozens of insurgents had also been killed or wounded in Homs and elsewhere.

Every night for an hour, the Syrian state broadcaster provides news and commentary for a German-speaking audience. The programming gives the impression that the government in Damascus is doing all it can to mediate and avoid a bloody civil war.

As in the Arab-language main programming, the insurgents are consistently described as being terrorists controlled and supported by foreign forces. In addition, individual news items speak of the government's alleged commitment to reform. Criticism of President Bashar Assad is nowhere to be heard.

Making their political position clear

A unit of the Syrian armed forces carry out a military operation in Aleppo AFP/GettyImages

Radio Damascus provides the government line on the conflict

Abdullatif Adam, the head of German programming at Radio Damascus, explains the broadcaster's intent: "The aim of the foreign services of the different radio and television stations is to correctly portray the political, cultural, sport and touristic aspects of our country." But it's clear that the main message of the current news line-up is the war.

"Providing the government's own political views on regional and international events, in a number of different languages - this is classic propaganda, similar to what once came out of Europe and in others parts of the world," says Kai Hafez, a communications professor at the University of Erfurt.

No criticism allowed

The Syrian state broadcaster first aired German-language programming in 1968, over shortwave. Today, daily programming can also be picked up via satellite and over the Internet. Adam says the programming blocks, bookended by Arabic music, are put together by 10 people. Similar services are also available in English, French, Russian and Turkish.

Syrian President Basher Assad EPA/LUCAS DOLEGA

Criticism of Assad is not welcome

Listeners, according to Adam, are almost exclusively Germans or Austrians; Syrians living in Germany, however, are less likely to tune in. Adam, who says he is taking private German lessons in Damascus, says he gets a lot of feedback from his listeners, though now and again it's also criticism.

"For example, there are instances where people don't understand our political stance on the Arab-Zionist conflict, or have a different opinion on the issue. In that case, they let us know," he says. Any deviation from the government line while on the air, however, is clearly not on the schedule.

Limited reach and impact

Adam admits he doesn't know much about the reach of his little-known program in Germany, but says he would like a stronger signal. In addition, he would also like to start a German-language television channel to further expand his audience.

Hafez, however, believes such foreign language broadcasters have a limited range. "I don't think audience numbers are very high," he says. Hafez also doesn't think such programming can do much to significantly promote the Syrian government's position on the world stage.

"This [broadcast] is merely a proof of modernity and functionality," says Hafez. "Any country that can afford it will set up something similar."

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