Syrian gov’t shuts down satcaster

No official reason was given for web's sudden closure

LONDON — Syria is sending out mixed signals with its attempts to liberalize its media biz.

Its first and only commercial TV channel, satcaster Al Sham, was shut down by Information Minister Muhsin Bilal on Oct. 30, a week before the first politically unaligned daily newspaper, Al Watan (Homeland), hit newsstands on Monday. No official reason was given for the web’s sudden closure after just a year on air. It was owned by Syrian MP Mohammad Akram al Jundi.

Rival satcaster Dunia is set to be launched by businessman Mohammed Hamsho, known to be close to President Bashar Assad.

Al Sham aired eight hours of live programming, with an emphasis on educational and social programs. The rest of the 16-hour sked was dedicated to Arab sudsers and movies. It had become the fifth most popular channel in the country in terms of audience figures.

Al Watan “does not belong to any movement, and we do not express the points of view of any party,” wrote owner Wadah Abed Rabbo in his opening editorial.

That said, Al Watan isn’t straying far from the party line. The first issue featured a cartoon of Lebanese President Fouad Siniora sitting on President George W. Bush’s knee.

Lebanon and Syria have been at political loggerheads ever since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of being behind the attack, which officials in Damascus deny.

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