News circulates in the west concerning the discarding of the printed press to make room for the internet and television, and how writers should take heed of this matter. The Arab world has grasped the warning dividing those who are interested and those who wish to discuss the idea. The question is prevalent: does television and the internet threaten printed journalism? The idea of addressing the issue did not occur to me until I received a message from a reader referring to the issue.
My belief is that the real danger in the Arab world comes from neither television nor the Internet; but rather it is the matter of intellectual property. There is no supervisor or guardian in the Arab world and it would seem that God is the only one we can turn to in protest against the violation of intellectual property rights. Television broadcasting channels use you as a source without reference, thus disregarding the effort and research that is put into the original news item. Of course, one is surprised that certain news reports have relied on the search engines of your newspaper. One intelligent person intentionally made a mistake in order to demonstrate that some channels duplicate news stories without accurate revision, and his words proved true. Furthermore, another newspaper copied an inaccurate news item claiming the story as its own!
There is also the matter of online news websites. If they stop copying news items from newspapers, or if a strict system protecting the legal rights of newspapers existed, then these websites would have to shut down simply because they cannot afford the cost of news coverage, especially that there are no advertising revenues for the Internet in our Arab world. For that reason, the real danger is copy right infringement.
Many may pose the question; what about people who read newspapers on the net instead of buying them? The answer is simple as newspapers can set fees for access to their online editions as the Financial Times does as well as the American Wall Street Journal. The New York Times has recently begun imposing fees for browsing some of its content such as reports or editorials. These newspapers are widespread and maintain a prominent name and impact.
Readership in the Arab world is a problem in itself not because of television or Internet but rather because reading in our Arab world is a luxury, and not part of our nature. This is attributed to the educational system, which until recently has not encouraged reading, while it remains that the gap between education and the press is huge.
A final year law student said, "I do not recall any lecturer informing us of any cases published in the press!" Consequently, fathers and mothers do not read, or may not have even learnt how to read in the first place. Such tragedy would be apparent amongst the coming generations. An old English saying highlights the importance reading, stating that one who does not read for three days is ignorant! The importance of reading in comparison to watching television for instance is so that studies have proven that watching half an hour of news bulletins on TV is the equivalent to reading only half a page of a newspaper!
Therefore, I say that our problem is the intellectual property and plagiarism of items published in the press. A Palestinian website sends me news items everyday via e-mail, and all articles are clearly items from our very own newspaper with no source of reference! In America, Bill Gates comfortably sits on his thrown of wealth for the second consecutive year, whereas in our Arab world there are no indications of the appearance of our own Bill Gates, not even within the next fifty years. No one protects intellectual rights, so how can we expect a genius to appear and prepare a successful program for us? The case is the same with the press and its new companions.