Taking Arab media back to the dark ages



 
The editor in chief of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper looks with a mix of worry and anger at some of the decisions being taken at Arab summits in Tunis and Cairo. "The Arab ministers have started to coordinate in an admirable way in order to take the Arab media back to the dark ages", writes Abd-al-Bari Atwan.
 
By ABD-AL-BARI ATWAN
 
The semi-independent Arab media's honeymoon is apparently about to end at a record speed and the same thing can be said about Arab satellite channels' limited margin of freedom. The Arab information ministers have started to coordinate in an admirable way in order to bury these freedoms and take the Arab media back to the dark ages, that is to a media of praise, and of devoting entire news bulletins to the ruler's noble deeds, great achievements, and the welfare projects he is opening as he looks after the citizens' comfort.

Three principal events whose signs appeared clearly during the past weeks prompt us to voice this pessimistic view and they are as follows:

First: The Arab interior ministers' adoption at their meeting in the Tunisian capital last week of what they called" amendments to the strategy of confronting terror." These criminalize any propagation or incitement of it by persons or media organs and also the possession of materials or tapes by terror groups.

Second: The independent Al-Masri al-Yawm newspaper published a report in which it said that Egyptian Information Minister Anas al-Fiqqi and his Saudi counterpart Dr Iyad Madani agreed to present a draft for amending the rules organizing the operation of Arab satellite channels during the meeting of the Arab information ministers which is scheduled to be held in Cairo next week. This will include a text making the country issuing the license bound to warn the satellite channel and cancel its licence for good if it breaches the political rules and warnings in its political dialogue programmes.

Third: The pressures exerted by the Saudi Government and the United States on the management of Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which brought about a revolution in the Arab media by its boldness. The pressures led the channel to stop completely dealing with Saudi affairs and developments, especially in terms of the activists' demands for democracy, freedoms and constitutional monarchy.

This campaign aimed at muzzling the Arab media comes noticeably from the two countries – Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – that have total control of all this media through finance or influence. The massive financial boom resulting from the steep rise in oil prices has helped the second country, Saudi Arabia, tighten its control further on the Arab media organs and in particular the eastern ones.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the biggest visual, written and audio media empire in the region and its influence extends to media outlets as far afield as Lebanon and Europe, and it has almost total control of the free media zones in the Arab homeland, especially in the United Arab Emirates.

The threat to the quasi-independent Arab media that aspire to a minimum of professionalism and objectivity is made up of two main parts.

According to the Arab interior ministers' decisions and amendments, an accusation of inciting terrorism can lead confiscation, closure, and withdrawal of licences of the media outlet in question.


For instance, under the new rules, the government of Nuri al-Maliki in the new Iraq can demand the closure of any Arab satellite channel if the channel refuses to call the Iraqi resistance of the U.S. occupation terrorism, and continues to host its leaders or those sympathetic to it on its satellite channels.

Under the same principle, the Saudi or Egyptian government can issue a judicial order to arrest any political commentator or director of a satellite channel who screens a tape by Al-Qa'idah organization leader Shaykh Usamah Bin-Ladin or his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri on the charge of propagating terrorism and publishing or broadcasting banned terrorist materials which threaten the state's security.

The reason for this onslaught is the limited reawakening in some Arab public opinion circles following Israel's immoral blockade of starvation of the Gaza Strip, and the sweeping Arab popular support for the storming of the Egyptian borders [by Gaza's residents] and the destruction of the wall separating the two sides.

What gives this explanation credence is this excessive official Egyptian media campaign we see these days in the newspapers and television channels which are inciting the Egyptian people against their Palestinian brothers in a counterattack that focuses on Egypt's sovereignty and how rich the starving in the Strip are and the lengthy articles about their purchases in a planned attempt to play on the Egyptian citizen's modest financial conditions.

Those writing these articles in the Egyptian newspapers and talking about the breach of their country's sovereignty by Gaza Strip's hungry do not say a single word about the failure of this sovereignty and Cairo's rulers to double the number of Egyptian soldiers, that is to send an extra 750 soldiers to protect the borders from another invasion, because of the Israeli veto.

The Arab governments, and in particular the Saudi and Egyptian ones, want to take Arab public opinion to the previous lifeless era which prevailed before the satellite channels boom and in which the official media played the heroic role, that is, political programmes that had nothing to do with reality and reflected the views of the intelligence services and their rulers [rather than those of the public.]

More seriously, these two countries are also the ones who are investing the most, through some of their followers, in the entertainment and amusement channels which are multiplying at a frightening rate. Many believe that they aim to corrupt the young generations and steer them away from the fundamental and essential issues which affect their future, such as unemployment, corruption, human rights violations, and all kinds of freedoms.

It is an intimidation to which the Arab media is being subjected these days and it is threatening to prevent our Arab societies developing and catching up with the civilized nations. It sanctions the capitulation to the current American hegemony and subservience plans and probably the Israeli ones in future. It is an intimidation that will impede democratic freedoms from reaching the only region in the world they have not reached and which is still being governed by totalitarian dictatorships.

We understand very well that we are targeted, the few like us who preferred to sing outside the chorus and sided with the citizen and his interests. But we also understand that it is the duty of all the honest media people who care about their profession and the progress of their societies and nations to raise their voice against this creeping intimidation which is as dangerous as armed terrorism, if not more dangerous, because the time when the Arab citizen tunes in to the BBC to learn about his country's news is supposed to have gone forever.



This article was republished with permission from al-Quds al-Arabi.