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In Syria, Aleppo Today Is Must-See TV For Survival

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Every day, dozens of Syrians are killed and wounded in Aleppo, Syria's financial capital. Since July, President Bashar Assad's loyalists have mounted a relentless military campaign to dislodge rebels fighting for control of the northern city. Neither side can afford to lose.

Aleppo was once the largest city in Syria, with more than 4 million people. Many have fled the violence, but for those who remain, a private television station is a lifeline.

The channel is called Aleppo Today, and it has become, literally, "survival TV."

Aleppo Today was already broadcasting daily political reports when Syria's civil war swept into the city in late July. For the first time, Aleppo had a local channel outside government control, funded by local businessmen and run by activists. Now, Aleppo Today is a trusted source for civilians trying to stay alive in a city under siege.

"We are the only TV broadcasting for Aleppo, just for Aleppo," says the news editor, who doesn't want his name published. He fears for his family who live in a city now carved into pockets of rebel-held and regime-controlled neighborhoods.

For security reasons, NPR is not disclosing the location of the newsroom. It's a small office where the staff work in three shifts in order to provide 24-hour coverage. They monitor reports coming in from more than 40 correspondents in Aleppo itself, and another 30 reporters in the suburbs surrounding the city.

The broadcast is fairly simple — just music and still images. But what makes this must-see TV are the news tickers that run at the bottom of the screen.

One carries political news, the other is a constant live-stream update on the fighting. It's a street-by-street account that tracks the movement of government tanks, strikes by air force jets, rebel offensives in the city, even alerts on when the Internet is back up.

"If you are giving the right information, people can protect themselves, telling which areas are safe and which are not," the news editor says.

It's a quiet newsroom. The staff takes calls on headphones and types out reports from the front lines. There have been thousands of videos uploaded from Syria, but the newsroom staff says it checks with multiple sources before publishing a report.

The employees are young — the average age 27 — and well educated. They have families in Aleppo, so they also can't be named. Among them are an economist, a journalist, a German literature major and a lawyer.

"We just want to be able to say that we can speak out and not be killed," the news editor says.

It is a real fear: The channel — which is also available online — is often blocked by the regime, and the staff has been targeted. But every time the broadcasts are jammed, Aleppo Today moves to another satellite channel, and a loyal audience travels with it, in search of news that it truly can use.

Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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