The Syrian media, controlled by the dictatorship in Damascus, is very careful about its choice of words. Recognition of the State of Israel, or any Jewish national or religious rights in the Land of Israel, are strictly forbidden.

An article this month in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat laid out the terminology used by the Syrian media, based on interviews with leading Syrian journalists.

The Al-Hayat article includes some of the latest entries in the media lexicon of the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). Some choice examples:

Wrong: Israeli Arabs

Right: The Palestinians in the occupied lands of 1948

Wrong: the Temple Mount

Right: the Holy Al-Haram Al-Qudsi

Wrong: Wailing Wall

Right: Al-Buraq Wall

Wrong: The Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

Right: Harat Al-Sharaf

Wrong: the neighborhood of Gilo

Right: the settlement of Gilo

Wrong: Jerusalem municipality

Right: the so-called Jerusalem municipality

Wrong: the Machpela Cave

Right: the Holy Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi

Wrong: Rachel's Tomb

Right: The Bilal Mosque

Wrong: violent/terror operations

Right: resistance

Wrong: riots

Right: demonstrations

Wrong: security threat

Right: citizens rising up against the occupation forces

Wrong: Netzarim junction

Right: Al-Shuhada junction

Wrong: Har Dov

Right: Occupied Lebanese Shab'a Farms

Wrong: Ben Gurion Airport

Right: Lod Airport

Control of the Syrian press takes the form of limiting news received by Syrians to SANA, according to the article. Control of the individuals working in the media takes the form of control over appointments. As the Al-Hayat article quotes: "Editor-in-chief of the ruling Ba'ath party daily Al-Ba'ath Mahdi Dakhlallah said: 'There is no political guidance in the day-to-day handling of news items. It is subject to the editor's judgment... These matters are examined when the editor is appointed, and so there is no need for guidelines, supervision, or direct intervention in his work.'"

Similarly, the lexicon is under tight political control, changing at the whim of the ruler. As Al-Hayat reports: "[I]n recent years the terms 'imperialism,' 'reaction,' and 'vassalage,' have disappeared, to be replaced by 'hegemony' and 'globalization'... 'Civil society' has replaced the term 'the society of progress and socialism.' After Bashar Al-Assad's election as president and his speech on 'opinion and counter-opinion,' the concepts of 'political, economic, and administrative change' and 'reform' infiltrated into the media."

Even the very style of reports is chosen by the authorities. The Al-Hayat article quotes the former director of SANA, Dr. Fayez Al-Sayigh, as saying, "President Bashar Al-Assad does not like the pompous [style], and [prefers] the neo-realistic language that is appropriate for the Syrian renewal, without the pomposity that has characterized Syrian journalists' writing in the past."

As for the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Al-Hayat noted that in "previous decades, the use of the name 'Israel' in the political discourse was considered treason, and the terms 'the Zionist entity,' 'the Zionist gangs,' or 'the Zionist enemy' were used instead. When the Madrid conference was convened in 1991, terms became more realistic."

However, "During the mid-'90s, the media discourse changed. Official [Syrian] television began showing Israeli officials and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin smiling."

Despite this apparent change, the article continued: "Mahdi Dakhlallah, the Al-Ba'ath editor, said: 'It is inconceivable for us to say 'suicide operations.' We say 'martyrdom' or 'heroism.' Deeb prefers the term 'martyrdom' because 'those who carry out these operations do it out of religious motivation and think that they will reach Paradise and that they are martyrs, while the term 'heroism operation' is secular.'"

When asked if Israel is recognized by official Syrian media, "Dakhlallah says: 'We use the word 'Israel' in the framework of negotiations under international auspices, but we say 'the Zionist entity' and 'state terrorism' when we speak of Israel's actions.'" Similarly, the Al-Hayat article notes, "The computers in the editorial department of the Teshreen daily are programmed to put 'Israel' in quotation marks automatically. Editor Al-Jarrad: 'I see Israel as a plundering entity existing on the land of the Palestinian people. I do not agree to the free use [of words] that include any normalization or cooperation with Israel.'"

[Translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)]