The State Department often funds programs around the world that promote democratic ideals and human rights, but it usually draws the line at giving money to political opposition groups.
In February 2006, when relations with Damascus were at a nadir, the Bush administration announced that it would award $5 million in grants to “accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.”
But no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.”
Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel.
People involved with the group and with Barada TV, however, would not acknowledge taking money from the U.S. government.
“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s news director, said in a brief telephone interview from London.
Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas.
“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”
Other dissidents said that Barada TV has a growing audience in Syria but that its viewer share is tiny compared with other independent satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Although Barada TV broadcasts 24 hours a day, many of its programs are reruns. Some of the mainstay shows are “Towards Change,” a panel discussion about current events, and “First Step,” a program produced by a Syrian dissident group based in the United States.
Ausama Monajed, another Syrian exile in London, said he used to work as a producer for Barada TV and as media relations director for the Movement for Justice and Development but has not been “active” in either job for about a year. He said he now devotes all his energy to the Syrian revolutionary movement, distributing videos and protest updates to journalists.