When ‘CNN’ fired one of its broadcasters because he insulted one of his fellow colleagues, my initial reaction was heartfelt laughter. Dismissed because he insulted his colleague? Imagine if we applied this principle in the Arab media, dismissing all media employees who insult their peers, whether in the same institution or a different one. Then there would only be a few left in the profession!
Regarding the CNN incident, a colleague of mine said “it looks like you didn’t notice that the broadcaster was talking about Jews controlling U.S television networks” [rather than simply insulting a fellow employee]. Maybe so, but in our Arab media, an employee may insult a colleague in a manner of ways, calling him secular, a failure, or a corrupt figure. He may even accuse him of being an agent, or a fundamentalist. Insults such as these pass by unnoticed. Some Arab newspapers even report news that has been purely fabricated from the Internet, regarding a journalist working for Israel, and so on. Of course, we are all victims of this, and other writers discuss the same problem, and sometimes your insults are broadcast live on the air! Funnily enough, in our Arab media, when someone bears the insults of his colleagues, it is seen as an indication of his maturity and awareness. He accepts that whilst he has his opinions and others have theirs, he will also be subject to insults!
Strangely, we do not hear Arab politicians, despite their dissatisfaction with the media, come out and insult media employees. A politician may express his frank, emotional opinion, but he will not directly insult someone working in the media. However, some politicians intentionally harness some media employees to level insults on their behalf. It seems that an exchange of insults is purely a tendency of the media.
Of course, when a media employee insults another it is an art form; there are those that publish it in newspapers, or air it on television, or post it on the internet. This is another story altogether, that’s worthy of a case study. However, when it comes to us, the most traditional arena to insult colleagues in the Arab media usually takes place in a Majlis.
The simplest example here of conveying insults via the press is what our colleague in Beirut, Thair Abbas, has been exposed to since his famous interview with the Lebanese Prime Minster Saad al-Hariri. Some people have ignored the content of the interview, and instead focused on our colleague and our newspaper of course. The newspaper ‘al-Akhbar’, which reflects the opinion of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, said that our colleague never met with Saad al-Hariri, which is a blatant lie. This is not an insult on our behalf, but rather a description of reality. This was a desperate attempt to portray a media employee in a certain way, in order to divert attention from political significance of his work!
Of course, we do not want a situation where there are no media battles over certain ideas, or debates about particular topics, but rather what is meant here are we direct insults and ill-manners. Therefore, when we contemplate the current situation in the Arab media, especially with its ideological controls, the strong influx of ‘honest money’ into the profession, and the growing desire to achieve influence through the media, we should consider the CNN network’s dismissal of a presenter, simply because he insulted a colleague, to be a large moral luxury. If we applied the same principle, unfortunately only a small number of people would remain in the industry.