Here’s an Arab journalist from an Arab news channel having some trouble expressing himself (not only because his English is poor). With a nervous and emotive style, he’s delivering a complete portrait on the Arab media landscape. This senior journalist recently gave a lecture before an audience of journalists but he asked not to be quoted anywhere – because his words can be misinterpreted in his country. Therefore, I’m not identifying him, but I’m quoting his most important opinions, since I find them vital to have a better understanding of the problems journalism is facing in the Arab world (it’s him who uses the expression “Arab world”). According to him, ethics is a concept that Arab journalism can’t even dream about.
“Sometimes you are involved in a work you see is not compatible with any ethics and that you perceive it as harmful to some people”, says the journalist. .
“Frankly, we don’t find the so-called neutral or impartial media in the Arab world. Unfortunately, if you want impartial and neutral media you have to watch BBC Arabic and even some people feel suspicious about it. It’s a very problematic situation. There are many factors for this crisis.”
. Political context
“During the old regimes era, the only organized political forces were the Islamists. Only they could have some popularity among people. After the Arab Spring this organizations actually were able to get some benefits of the openness in the media and in the political arena. They got more popular. You know, in Egypt Muslim Brotherhood won, in Tunisia also. It’s seems like a confrontation curse: now the old regimes are not satisfied with Islamists, historically they are enemies. Islamist organizations miscalculated the political situation, they thought they could get the power through democracy. At the same time, they use democracy as a tool to rule, but they don’t believe in democracy, they don’t believe in nationality or citizenship. Islamist Egyptians consider them closer to Palestinian or Jordanian Islamists. Even if other Egyptians are mostly Muslins and also committed to religious behaviours, what about the non-religious and Christians?”
. Social media
“Many people think they shouldn’t follow Al Jazeera [Arabic version], Al Arabiya or BBC Arabic. They choose Facebook or Twitter because they think they find credible reports and news there. Unfortunately, social media are full of lies and fabricated news and rumours. This makes the situation even more chaotic. There are many sources of news for the same development but in many versions. There’s uncertainty. The credibility of the media today is very low. According to some researchers, the highest rate of credibility of any traditional media in the Arab world is 7%, one digit.”
. Ethics and job market
“There are many media men that are not satisfied with the policies of their newsrooms. Some are even against it. But how to get a new job? The job market is not easy especially for experienced journalists; maybe young journalists are luckier. Sometimes you are involved in a work you see is not compatible with any ethics and that you perceive as harmful to some people, like in Yemen or in Libya. This is a real agony for the media people. Many of them have families, they can’t move. Another factor is that you become part of it, how can you move? People believe that you worked for the enemy.”
. Illegal journalists
“The definition of journalist in Egypt is only connected to print media. If you work for TV or radio or online you are not a journalist, you are illegal, and you can be put in prison because you are illegal. These laws were not revised yet. Most of media workers today are not in print media, but on TV or websites or radio. Unfortunately law and law people are very selective: if you are pro-government and you insult someone that’s OK, but when you are against government and you are a critic you can be put in prison.”
. Talk shows
“There are a lot of long talk shows in most of the Arab TVs: a presenter and three or five guests that talk for a long time. In the Arab world these talk shows are full of verbal attacks, political attacks, character assassinations: “he had an affair, he takes bribes, he made it like this”. Some say about these programmes that “guns are working”. They shoot any target. Sometimes this is like an orchestra. In ten news channels you can see the same topics and the same guests saying exactly the same. Totally chaotic, you can’t imagine. There are no regulators to make media accountable.”
. European training
“European Union should help creating the so-called neutral media. I’m not talking about money, because if you get money from foreigners you can to prison. I’m talking about training, spreading awareness about the ethics of journalism, this should be an important issue for the EU, you shouldn’t listen to me, you should go there and do something. Many young journalists understand their work in a very bad way: journalism means that you have to be partial and use harsh words. Go to the Arab world, study the situation on the ground, listen to journalists and then decide what EU can do for journalists in the Arab world.”