A quick glance at the headlines or leading stories on Arabic television news bulletins is enough to quash any ambition or effort that seeks to broaden the Arab media’s horizon in a way where it can tackle non-political issues – which are of equal importance as their political counterparts. Non-political topics should receive the same amount of coverage, interest and resolution-seeking efforts.
It is true that the Middle East is embroiled in conflicts and war wherein instability reigns to the point where politics always take center stage, however this political dominance of the largest segment of media requires careful examination and reconsideration so that other issues are not sidelined or conveyed as less important.
The efforts made by some organizations and public institutions towards the Arab press and television could be classified as an attempt to rebalance political and non-political issues. Recently, initiatives have been launched for organizations to fund and train journalists to prepare material that focuses on social, environmental and humanitarian issues, which are usually perceived as secondary in Arab media. This political dominance has caused issues such as AIDS, the increase in the number of suicides, domestic violence, child labor, illiteracy and drugs to be topics of less significance in the Arab press. Even when such issues are addressed, they do not receive the appropriate coverage, knowing that these issues in the west are central and are the basis of political dialogue.
In Egypt for example, the hijab has become the main topic of debate in the aftermath of the statements made by the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni. Notwithstanding that it is an important topic in Egypt, it does not compare in significance and scale to the country’s domestic violence problem and its prevalence. A brief comparison between the levels of interest in both topics shows that politics outweighs everything in the Arab media. Even when issues have been resolved, they are then subjected to a more narrow and local political perspective.
It is for this reason that the attempts of some public organizations and institutions to push for more media interest in social topics are a worthy cause that deserves support. There are many issues in the Arab world that are dangerous and critical that require care and interest, which may not equate to the interest in politics, however the discrepancy should not be that wide.
This topic raises a question for journalists and media representatives alike that is associated with the Arabic media’s attraction to politics, which is invariably the overriding element in what the media covers. Although the politics cannot be extricated from the sectarian infighting in Iraq, or from the possibility of clashes in Lebanon and the continuous violence against Palestinians at the hands of Israel – it wouldn’t hurt to try.