Asked to define “pornography,” a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States of America replied that it was hard to define it but that “I know it when I see it.” Today, in light of the explosion of satellite television broadcasting with 365 Arabic-language stations along with tens of others awaiting the green light, controversy over what is allowed and what is prohibited, what is acceptable and unacceptable and what is appropriate and inappropriate in satellite broadcasting has returned to the forefront.
This debate comes following a strong response to a number of episodes shown on various satellite stations, for example one program presented a book about sex and read some lines from it that accurately depict the details of sexual intercourse and another episode of another program on another satellite television station portrayed prostitutes. Following the latter, these women appeared on a rival station and said that they were paid money by the program to make such statements as prostitutes. Volcanoes of wrath erupted, with some defending the right of opinion and freedom of speech and others defending modesty and common decency. The fact is that such a heated debate reflects similar ideas and arguments in various countries around the world concerning the boundaries of media freedom, the limit of permissible criticism and what is allowed and appropriate versus what is prohibited and inappropriate. Even in the most open and liberal of societies there are moral lines that function as “boundaries” that, if surpassed, the material presented would be improper. One such renowned example is the incident that took place during the halftime performance of the US Super Bowl [XXXVIII] when a female performer exposed her breast, causing outrage amongst the American spectators. The vehement reaction imposed stringent terms on channels and performers against indecent acts. In addition, the time delay between the actual event and the time of its live transmission was increased to enable directors to intervene and remove violations, if any.
The mix up between constructive criticism and controversial ideas causes great confusion about the noble duty and mission of media and criticism. By pursuing controversial headlines and sensational clips, a media figure is restricted to “clamor” to cover up a career failure and the neglect of more important and sensitive issues. The desired development and reform in the Arab world are largely linked to a real leap in media professionalism and opening the door to its effective message. This requires developing the profession and its control mechanisms by laying down real and important criteria that make the informative climate capable of interaction and contribution rather than the purpose of media figures being to hang out dirty laundry or systematic “vulgar exchanges.” Such is neither information nor criticism!
The unlimited vastness of space has allowed media to transcend to new and far-reaching heights – the new challenge is for this dissemination to reflect seriously on legislation.