Over the past few weeks, western political commentators, particularly those in the US, have been involved in discussing how modern western technologies, particularly social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, have served as the catalyst for the revolutionary movement in the Arab world.
The US internet industry has, in effect, given itself credit for overthrowing the regimes of both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
What is most striking about these discussions, other than their obvious ignorance about the distinctions between different countries and societies in the Middle East, is that they have neglected the role played by WikiLeaks and the leaked diplomatic cables, which is something that we must not disregard when discussing the initial reasons behind the population uprisings in the Arab world.
It was thanks to WikiLeaks that the Tunisians were able to read the truth about the corruption of the regime that was oppressing them. WikiLeaks also allowed the Egyptians to view secret information about their own regime, which was no less scandalous than some of the details surrounding the Ben Ali regime.
However, the role of WikiLeaks, Twitter, and Facebook pale in comparison to the role played by satellite news channels, and particularly Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Millions of Arabs are unable to access the afore-mentioned websites, but they are all able to watch satellite television. It might be useful here to cite the admission made by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton a few days ago when she acknowledged that her country is losing the information war. Clinton criticized the US media and its superficial approach to the news, whilst praising Al Jazeera, particularly its English language news service, describing this as presenting “real news.”
Even if US technologies have – via social networking websites – contributed, in one way or another to the momentum of the popular uprisings in the Arab world, or helped the Arab reform movements to develop, this is something that in no way, shape, or form applies to the Western news media, and particularly the American news. This is not just because the majority of Arabs do not watch these channels, and these television channels are not interested in targeting Arab viewers.
The US media’s view of the world has informed its view of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, for it divides the world into good and evil as if real life is like a Hollywood movie where the hero bravely fights against the forces of evil and always triumphs. The US media, or rather the prevailing current within the US media, views and understands the world through a patriotic lens. Hillary Clinton’s praised Al Jazeera as if she has forgotten that her country continues to ban this channel, despite the fact that it is the US State Department that is always criticizing the policies of censorship in countries like Iran.
American technology might have played a role in the great changes being witnessed by the Middle East, and it is only right that this technology should be praised for this, however as much as these revolutions require technology that facilitates communication, they also requires a spirit of open discussion and debate rather than bias and prejudice. Indeed, it is incomprehensible how the American media can cover Arab revolutions and uprisings and focus almost exclusively on the extent of the impact that these will have on Israel, and future Arab relations with Tel Aviv.
Indeed, a new ethical question is beginning to be asked of Western news media, a question that reflects a similar question being asked of Western governments, namely; why have they been silent about the corruption and despotism of certain Arab regimes until now, the extent of which has only been revealed following the ouster of two Arab regimes?