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New Media: Why do Governments Remain Silent? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The mobile phone is one of the most dangerous new players in the field. In its third generation, one can now watch television broadcasts via a mobile phone to the extent that television channels have been launched specifically to offer this mobile phone service in order to benefit from the revenue of SMS text messages, some of which have exceeded the profits of commercial advertisements. Some mobile phone companies have become major players within the media, however the question that puzzles media figures is: Why have governments remained unusually silent? They are similar to people who try to keep out the water that is held by the dam with the use of one finger. The dam is about to collapse and they know that. We should also look at the financial aspect that prompts governments to remain silent and be patient regarding new media services despite the criticisms and anger expressed via SMS messages, websites and e-mails. The main reason behind the official tolerance is the large amounts [of money] that are reaped by public mobile phone companies or private companies that finance governments with funding that now represents the second [largest] source of income after oil, such as in the Gulf states.

In addition, according to a report by the Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC), a company that specializes in mobile phone communications in the Middle East region, for every job opportunity available within the mobile phone sector in a country like Egypt, there are another eight jobs in other economic sectors – in that the telecommunications sector alone contributes to creating a quarter of potential job opportunities available in Egypt. The influence of new media on the market is exciting as for whoever invests $1,000 in shares of mobile companies; there is a return of between $12,000 and $35,000.

A survey conducted in seven Middle Eastern countries by the Zawiya Institute for Research indicated that the number of mobile phone users is estimated at 75 million people in the Middle East and North Africa, and these services are provided via 38 telecommunication companies in 18 countries.

We must realize that governments want to control everything that is said or broadcast so that they can guarantee the “political stability” that they need and not necessarily what the society needs. Although it is clear that governments have other reasons for promoting censorship and for accountability within new media and for their frequent failed attempts to control what is sent via SMS, or by blocking websites or censoring electronic mail, we also must realize that there are real dangers that this open space poses upon society by irresponsible groups that promote drugs, crime, and terrorism and that spread hatred and fanaticism and chaos within society.

Negative usage of new media is an evident aspect whereby the user benefits from absolute freedom.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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