UK-based Syrian TV station denies secret funding from US government

A south London-based satellite channel run by less than a dozen staff has been hit by claims that it was one of several Syrian political opposition projects that have been secretly funded by America's State Department.

Barada TV, a pro-democracy Syrian news channel based next to Vauxhall Park in south London, started broadcasting in April 2009. It is reportedly one of a number of Syrian anti-government organisations that have received as much as $6m (£3.7m) from the US government.

Documents published by WikiLeaks suggest that the State Department has been funding opposition groups including the 24-hour free satellite channel for the past five years. The channel covers what it calls "oppositional" politics in Syria in a bid to overthrow the country's long running autocratic regime, led by Bashar al-Assad.

Protests have been sweeping the country over the past month, as Syrians have started to revolt against the emergency laws imposed in 1963, which last week the President promised to lift. Human rights organisations estimate the death toll to be in the region of 200, while the Syrian government blames "armed gangs."

Barada TV was set up by Malik al-Abdeh, who is also co-founder of the London-based Syrian-exile network Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), a political opposition group that is banned in Syria and chaired by his brother, Anas.

According to diplomatic cables, money was allocated to the network in September last year.

Mr Abdeh, 30, said he set up the satellite channel to empower the Syrian people and support peaceful revolution in the country. He denies that Barada TV or the MJD has ever taken any funding from the State Department, adding that the TV station receives its $1m budget from a Californian-based non-profit organisation, the Democracy Council, and several Syrian businessmen who cannot be named for security reasons.

"Barada TV would accept any unconditional donations from NGOs, but we have had no direct dealings with the US State Department," he said. "I think this is an attempt to delegitimise the independence of our content because many in the Arab world don't trust America. We are non-ideological and just want to break the regime's stronghold over the media."

The channel currently runs two-hour live interactive news programmes along with shows by the Dubai-based Orient TV, which since last week has carried news coverage of the protests in Syria.