Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Syrian Broadcasters in Exile

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Syrian Broadcasters in Exile

Article excerpt

Could radio, and in particular a weekly soap, have a role to play in the Syrian crisis? You might think, no chance, given the levels of violence and terror that have overtaken the country. How can a mere broadcast signal have an impact compared with all that destruction? But, says the director of Radio Alwan, a station operated by Syrians living in exile in a western suburb of Istanbul, 'radio is effective'. It's a 'weapon' because it 'allows you to enter the houses of people and talk to them'. It's also so easy. 'You don't need power, you don't need electricity -- just two small batteries.'

He was talking to Sara Davies on Between the Ears (Radio 3, Saturday), but we cannot be told his name for fear of reprisals. All of those working on the station have had to leave Syria after criticising the regime of President Assad. What Radio Alwan has given them is the chance to do something, even though they are no longer in Syria. The station, which transmits to Syria on FM but can also be found online, has become very popular because it's the place to go to find out what's happening. From Istanbul, they are constantly in touch by mobile phone with people in towns all across Syria and can report from inside the country on what's really going on.

But the station is also about hope, and is determined to show that Syrians are 'good people'. We heard lots of laughter from inside the office, singing too, and from the team of both male and female presenters. Meanwhile the director of the weekly drama serial, Sad Northern Nights , hopes it will change minds. It is deliberately targeted at women and tells the story of a mother and her teenage son who is caught up in the fighting. We want people to stop and think, says the director. To think that 'although we hate the regime that doesn't mean we love Daesh'.

The dream of everyone at Alwan is to move the station back to Damascus, to go back home. As Sara Davies says, their passion for radio, their enthusiasm and determination to continue, is inspiring and humbling: 'It's taken me right back to why I wanted to work in radio,' to appreciating radio's immediacy and the power of the human voice.

Over on Radio 4, Professor Michael Sandel (the philosopher who gave such a brilliantly clear and accessible series of Reith Lectures in 2009 on what it means to be a citizen) conducted an extraordinary experiment for The Global Philosopher (produced by David Edmonds). In conjunction with Harvard Business School, he walked into a 'virtual' lecture hall, surrounded not by an audience but instead by 60 video screens hosting each of the participants from 30 different countries. …

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