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Arab Media; Effective or Ineffective! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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All is fair in love and war; but not everything is acceptable in war.

The media is one of the things which is not acceptable in war; the media which is affiliated to each of the parties involved in the conflict, and which abounds in our region.

The Arab media- whether it likes it or not- is one of the battlefronts of these multifaceted and diverse conflicts. Some media agencies attempt to be as professional as possible with regards to their style and their media content, they avoid using rousing language, and rather concentrate on strong content and being the first on the scene. They also rely on the richness of their discussion programs which shines light on the shadowy areas behind the news.

For instance, let us take a look at the large number of Lebanese newspapers and satellite channels, and the transparency of their political affiliations. This is not due to the abundance of democracy in Lebanon, but rather due to the incapability of anyone becoming a sole dictatorial force there.

Nobody would argue with you in Lebanon if you were to say that Al-Manar, Al-Jadid and Aoun Television Channels, as well as Al-Akhbar and Al-Safir Newspapers, fall under the March 8 alliance, which Hezbollah is the backbone of.

On the other hand, Future TV, which has both news and international channels, and to a lesser extend LBC satellite channel, not to mention the Future newspaper (whose premises were attacked by the March 8 alliance during the invasion of Beirut by Hezbollah) and to a lesser extent Al Nahar newspaper, are the media mouthpieces of the [opposing] March 14 alliance.

Does this mean that these media agencies present themselves on this basis; that they will be the mouthpiece of whatever movement or party finances them?

Not necessarily; for although it is clear that Al-Manar television channel is the mouthpiece of Hezbollah, and Future TV is affiliated to the Future political party, things are more ambiguous with regards to other television stations and newspaper.

The most prominent case of this can be seen with regards to LBC TV, and Al Nahar newspaper, which were both founded upon ideals of independences in the midst of inter-Arab conflict, and internal struggle between political and social forces in every country.

If we broaden our view to look outside of Lebanon, we can see that the media battle is most fierce with regards the rivalry between Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya satellite channels. In some sense this rivalry is useful to Arab viewers as it provides them with more than one perspective and medium to the coverage of news events in the Arab world.

The issue is not simply a media competition regarding the reporting of breaking news, and the superiority of information; for it is up to the Arab viewer alone to decide which television channel he would like to watch, and which voice he would like to pay attention to. If the viewer supports the opposition groups of Khalid Mishal and Hassan Nasrallah and others like them, then the remote control in his hand will likely tune into Al-Jazeera television programs, because he has already made up his own mind, and simply wants to be reassured with regards to the correctness of his opinions.

On the other hand those who are not convinced with what is being proposed by fundamentalist opposition groups, nationalist groups, and left-wing movements, and believe that these groups are simply spinning the same web of illusion that ties down Arab society and thwarts its stability and development are not likely to be found amongst the viewers of Al-Jazeera. Rather these viewers will more likely find what they are looking for, or at least a portion of this, on Al Arabiya television channel, for they are looking for something that is not offered on Al-Jazeera.

Those in charge at both stations do not agree that their respective channels lean towards one camp or another. They maintain that the leaders, politicians, and intellectuals of every Arab camp appear on their screens. This is true, and one of the requirements of media professionalism, and if the two most important Arab news channels did not do so, then nobody else would.

In the end however each channel must have its own orientation, there is no harm in this; the problem lies with the Arab viewer who completely and utterly surrender his intellect to television programs that seduce and beguile him to forget about making critical distinction between pure information that is sacred in the media, and opinions that appear as information [but which truly are not]. This is not to mention the scenes of fiery speeches and fervent exclamation that can be seen on television screens.

I am not going to talk about Asharq Al-Awsat because my testimony would be considered biased. However the amount of controversy that surrounds this newspaper from those that opposite it, and its diverse news content, reports and articles, have reached a peak that must be examined by researchers in order to mark the impact this newspaper has had on the Arab political and media arena, especially since it is a newspaper in a time of satellite television channels.

In any case, media has been and will continue to be a controversial issue so long as it creates the news, and not just carries it. The media, which was a key element in previous wars, has not changed or altered its function; it has however become more professional as the scale of war has magnified to include the buzzing of fighter jets and the booming of artillery. War has ceased to be just a military conflict between countries, but has expanded to include every field from politics to economics and from a social war to an ideological one.

The media feeds on war. An example of this can be seen with regards to an Egyptian documentary made by Saad Nadeem entitled “Let the World Witness” which was screened in London during the 1956 Suez Crisis. The reaction to the documentary in the English pressed resulted in headlines like “Ban the Stench of Destruction from Britain” as the documentary was considered to be part of the Egyptian military effort led by Nasser and his comrades (Ali Abu Shadi, Cinema and Politics, P. 45)

Many changes have occurred in the media since 1956, and things are far more complex now due to the dramatic evolution in the modern and manifold media, not to mention the improvement in media content. This advancement has resulted in the inter-media war becoming the primary battlefront, while the secondary battlefront surrounds attracting viewers.

The media is no longer, and in fact has never been, an impartial news carrier, but it has become a creator of news as well, especially with regards to the news of assassinations, prosecutions, and threats made against journalists.

Had it not been for the evolution of the media and the developments in the transmission of news the recent war in Gaza would not have received as much news coverage as it did. This is something acknowledged by Dr. Anis Sayegh, a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and a man who by his own admission sympathizes with Hamas and the resistance factions, even though he himself is a secularist. Anis Sayegh was the director of the PLO Research Centre in Beirut.

I witnessed Dr. Sayegh being interviewed on Lebanese Future TV following the Gaza War; he said that the media coverage of the war allowed him to realize the true dimensions of the war, and witness the Palestinian tragedies in which many women and children died. He believed that it was due to the development of the media and the speedy transmission of news stories that allowed the viewer to see the shell being fired by the IDF, and then see it hit an area in Gaza triggering flames and plumes of smoke, perhaps just minutes later the viewer would see a woman, a child, or an old man injured [in this same attack] and bleeding live in front of him. The viewer might then even accompany the injured to the hospital and be with him during his last breath, or as he pulls through; all of this is transmitted to the viewer second-by-second.

Many of our television channels in the Arab world went over-the-top with regards to the transmission of tragedies on the pretext of mobilizing the public and did not take into consideration the feelings of the victims’ families. This occurred to the point that you would not be surprised to see the image of a young man – broadcast to you by the magic of the media- holding the body of a young child in his arms and weeping into the camera, in order to inform those who are not aware of what is truly happening.

All of these facts have transformed the media into a creator of events and their impact, because of the emotions it generates from such coverage. This is where we move from media to politics and political action, and it raises the key question; Is the media political, or semi-political?

This question has been raised in Morocco following the emergence of new opposition newspapers there which resulted in Moroccan Information Minister Khalid Al Naciri saying that those working in the media do not have the right to be dealt with simply as media professionals, because they have become “politically active”

And so we ask; what would have happened if this extensive and manifold media coverage had been present during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982?

Would it have changed the course of history if there were cameras present during the previous civil and imperialist wars that occurred over the past centuries? Would this have changed our view of the romantic heroes?

We ask this only to discover what stage the “politically active” media has reached.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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