One discussion panel at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, which ended yesterday, revolved around a single question: ‘Sectarianism and Arab media: Who is to blame?’
There are those who see the Arab media as being responsible for escalating sectarian tensions and spreading, nurturing and sponsoring hate speech. There are also those who view the media as being a mirror reflecting what actually lies in people’s hearts and what is being said in cafes, places of worship and our own homes.
Personally, I view the media as both influencing and being influenced. So while the media does reflect the presence of appalling sectarian sentiments everyone lies about while promoting nationalistic discourse, it can also feed these sentiments. This can be seen in the way a news report is presented and the context given, which differ from one media organization to the next, each catering to the tastes and interests of their audience.
We are witnessing an overwhelmingly chaotic media—a proliferation of satellite channels which coincided with the communication revolution that saw mass media fall to newer social media platforms.
There are those who poetically praise freedom, the beauty and glory of the freedom to say whatever you want, whenever you want. Such talk might be good for an evening of poetry under a linden tree, but the reality is that we are witnessing a destructive and chaotic media scene. This state of affairs is providing figures that are full of hatred and anger with a place to air their dirty laundry, without any censorship or sense of responsibility.
There is no other solution other than the implementation of a deterrents to stop these people from poisoning Arab societies. Freedom is a responsibility, and its does not include the freedom to hate or to destroy stability.
All countries and all societies now suffer from this chaos, and each praises media outlets that pander to the hatred they have for others, for religious, nationalist or ethnic reasons. You find those who praise the Shi’ite sectarian channels and insult the Sunni channels, and vice versa, with each side accusing the other of sectarianism.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has previously revealed the existence of 40 satellite channels funded by Iran, which take hostile stances against Bahrain in particular and the Gulf in general.
In Egypt, 12 satellite channels were shut down and 20 others were issued with warning for insulting religion. In Iraq, the government suspended the licenses of 10 satellite channels for what it described as the promotion of sectarian discourse.
Our airwaves are filled with inflammatory discourse that seeks to provoking religious conflict. According to the annual report by the Higher Committee for Coordination among Arab Satellite Channels, there is now a total of 39 religious and spiritual channels. Other reports said that there have been 10 new Christian religious channels established since 1996. As for Islamic channels, 71 new religious channels have been established since then, representing a variety of different Muslim sects.
What remains to be said is that sectarian incitement is not caused by the media—it is a side-effect that usually accompanies times of tension in our region. You only need to look at the 1860 Druze–Maronite conflict in Lebanon to realize this.
The development of media technology and its simplicity of use have served to exacerbate the problem, but did not create it—the problem lies in peoples’ hearts and minds.