Syria: Journalists’ safety mechanisms begin with trust

IMS’ safety efforts in Syria have been guided by the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. A central focus point has from day one been local ownership and agency as well as building trust. Recently, the first important steps towards a national emergency plan have been taken

The media landscape in Syria is exceptionally fragmented and disorganised after more than a decade of war. Independent journalists have fled into exile, been displaced internally or been killed by the regime. Many of those who remain in media – and might never have had any journalism training – in the country are internally displaced and now living in relatively new locations with other displaced groups, having to learn to work together as professional media organisations from the basis of insecurity, cultural differences and low levels of trust.

Since 2020, IMS has worked with the local partner Stabilization Support Unit to build collaboration and alignment between media actors in the areas controlled by the opposition in the northern part of the country. The Stabilization Support Unit has conducted a series of workshops in collaboration with local media, prompting dialogue between stakeholders – independent media, local government authorities, local military forces and civil society – on the issue of safety of journalists. Not only have these meetings gathered important local experiences, safety challenges and needs, they have also managed to build dialogue and trust between the different actors.

Building for the future

“The project is crucial at a time when many international entities have stopped supporting Syrian media, despite the deteriorating situation, miserable living conditions, violations and instability. Convening the actors and building trust among them is an accomplishment in itself in the current Syrian environment, and we believe it will increase the safety as well as the professionalism of journalists on the ground,” says Munzer Al Sallal, Executive Director of The Stabilization Support Unit.

In addition, in February 2022, a Media Honor Charter was adopted by the stakeholders. The charter is an important step towards a more professionalised and collaborative media sector, with its focus on explaining the laws in force, heightening the protection of media work and media professionals and familiarising media professionals with their rights and duties.

With support from IMS, Stabilization Support Unit has mainly focused on furthering advocacy and legal provisions to improve the safety of journalists on the ground, but it will increase its focus on governance to strengthen and develop the internal structures and safety policies of the media groups. The holistic approach provides the ground for the later goal: a locally anchored and steered regional emergency plan that prepares the nascent local media organisations for future relocations if conflict escalates in their areas.

“The workshops and the Media Honor Charter are first steps towards a regional emergency plan. With such a plan, we will improve the media’s safety mechanisms, preparedness and rebuilding opportunities and relocation, so journalists can keep reporting and sharing important stories with the Syrian public and the world in times of crisis,” says Munzer Al Sallal.

By locals, for locals

At the heart of the partnership is the idea that a such regional emergency plan should be developed by, anchored in and executed by those on the ground in Syria to increase the sustainability of the project. The war in Syria proved to Syrians that when catastrophe hits, it is not a solution to hope for help from the international community that might never come. For this reason, IMS remains in a supporting and strategically advising role, while the Stabilization Support Unit carries the implementation, building networks and developing a new infrastructure.

Currently, the project with Stabilization Support Unit focuses on the northern areas of Syria controlled by the Syrian interim government and runs as a pilot project. The hope is to expand the project to the eastern areas of Syria in the future.


This project is supported by Sida.


Key lessons from IMS’ work on safety under the UN Plan of Action in Syria:

  • Local ownership and buy-in are vital to the sustainability and effectiveness of any local safety of journalists initiative. The basis for establishing local ownership and buy-in is trust development activities e.g., in-person dialogues between various local stakeholders.
  • In a divided and fragmented context like Syria, it is essential to have diplomatic and charismatic local leaders who can bring the various stakeholders together.
  • In this divided and fragmented context, it is shown that the efforts to bring the various competing and fragmented local media bodies together are more constructive when a non-media entity, e.g., CSO, carries it out.
  • In a context that is severely lacking in national structural, legal and political protections for journalists, community protection for journalists is vital. Hence, special attention must be paid to local journalists’ professional training and capacity development to enhance this community protection by increasing the trust between local journalists and their local communities.
  • Due to the volatile context inside Syria, and to maximise protections for local journalists, local emergency plans (relocation) should be part of the regional multi-stakeholder dialogues in case of a crisis. These emergency plans must be owned and operated by local actors to ensure timely reactions and a greater chance of sustaining the local media environment in case of a crisis.