Meeting local needs from a distance: The role of diaspora media outlets as providers of informative humanitarian support across borders - The Case of Syria
Abstract: In a time shaped by an increased level of globalization and transnationalism, our perception of the immediate ‘local’ and the more distant ‘global’ is becoming more and more challenged by the forging of transnational flows, bonds and networks evolving in a rapid pace across profound distances. The new social, political and economic opportunities deriving from such transnational connections have been harnessed by various sectors of society, out of which media is one of them. With the development of information and communication technology (ICT), transnationalism has opened up new opportunities for media outlets to communicate messages over large distances and across national borders. In the midst of the Syrian civil war (2011 – present), researchers have witnessed an ongoing transformation of the Syrian media landscape, in which emerging transnational networks between media outlets in diaspora and journalists on the ground in Syria have opened up for new opportunities for Syrian independent media to continue their work amid the conflict. The emergence of Syrian diaspora media outlets (DMOs) working in cooperation with citizen journalists on the ground in Syria has allowed for information flows to cross national borders and transcend geographical distances. By operating through places that are located outside existing legislation, this has created a grey area in which journalists are able to push boundaries and circumvent Syrian state control and censorship of independent media. While previous studies have focused on Syrian DMOs’ role in the provision of news between their homeland and the international media community, there is a gap in the research on the reverse influence; namely on what role Syrian DMOs can play in providing their homeland citizens with information which they are lacking from inside their country. Based on an examination of seven independent Syrian DMOs, this study aims to fill the current research gap. The study illuminates the potential of DMOs in a changing and dynamic media environment; particularly by stressing their unique advantage in being able to engage in local issues while operating from a geographical distance. In particular, the study looks closer upon how DMOs are able to work to provide practical and non-political information in the form of informative humanitarian support (IHS) to their homeland citizens. By doing so, the study examines the potential of DMOs in taking on the role as humanitarian actors in the development community.
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