A blog is what in the Middle-East?

Beirut-based blogger, Razan Ghazzawi, discusses what blogs mean to the media landscape, for journalism and for the concept of free speech and democracy in the Middle-East.
BEIRUT, June 25, 2008 (MENASSAT) -- I want to dispel misconceptions surrounding blogs and blogging in the Arab world. Misconceptions I consider to be the same (in the Arab world) as those surrounding the press, freedom and democracy.

In the media landscape, blogs have been allowed to fill some sort of media/content vacuum, and nowadays blogging is considered “alternative” media.

How the “official” or “independent” media has allowed for such a vacuum to exist is unclear to me? Nonetheless, blogging is alternative media and finding out why requires an evaluation – an evaluation of the role of journalism and the role of different forms of media.

If I am asked, I say that journalism, like the idea of truth, has become an industry, and not just an industry but monopolized by industry like other concepts such as freedom, freedom of speech and democracy – all of these things have been commodified.

I think the official media is a contradiction to the idea of a “free" media. Rather than a plurality of voices, it monopolizes the voices of the people. Slogans become stories in order to create one identity with the disguise of plurality.

The same polarity exists with the concept of “independent journalism” or “independent" media. In this case, it is reduced to one meaning: opposing the dictator, i.e. opposing the “official" media.

I often wonder whether society is simply following a new policy that says, “If I am of the opposition then I’m free?” Does freedom mean opposition only?

Blogging as what...?

Unfortunately, journalism has over the decades become a victim of reductive logic, in which it falls into the categories of “official” or “independent” journalism rather than old-fashioned journalism.

Here, I ask, is it good to consider blogging a function of alternative media alone? I mean, if the free press were an alternative to the official media, how would blogging be an alternative - an alternative for what specifically?

I personally object to using the word “alternative” to describe blogging or blogs, for the term itself suggests eliminating something in order to replace it with something else. What’s worse is that this has already happened and “alternative” has become part of the media lexicon without discussing the form of media it is replacing.

In my opinion, the alternative media has since come to mean a re-reading process and a presentation of the facts in a critical way, not opposed to or similar to the way the official media reads it.

The alternative then is not blogging in itself as another way of transmitting the information or the opinion, but the correct reading of the facts.

Herein lies the controversy: the speech we find in the official media is different from that of the independent media, and both are different from the speech contained in blogs.

But blogging in Lebanon and the other Arab communities often means a diversity of expressions without a change in the essence of the message.

In this case, blogging can be seen as a continuation of the mechanism used by the official media sources to interpret events. During the civil violence in Lebanon last May, bloggers became a mirror of the political divisions reflected in the printed and audio-visual media of the country. Alternative?

Here I quote from Lebanese playwright/director, Roger Assaf when he said “to be free of all bans does not mean a victory for freedom or democracy.”

I would add it doesn’t mean freedom.

Reality versus utopia

We witness dozens of Arab bloggers being jailed in the prisons of Arab regimes for uncovering societal inequities underreported by official media. Does this make blogs a tool of freedom?

Blogging is not a reflection of freedom, nor is it a free tool, or a victory of democracy. For me, as a blogger, it is a search for a space (not of freedom), “to know” oneself before “expressing” or “changing” the reality.”

How do we change a reality we don’t know? How do we express a reality we don’t know?

When I began to blog, it wasn’t to “change” my reality, nor was it simply a means to express myself. I felt for the longest time that I didn’t have a self; that when I was born I was virtual.

But I’m not delusional. So, I write about myself, my obsessions and my worries which may seem reformist to some readers, but in truth, it is a merely an attempt for me to earn my Syrian passport (in Beirut) without actually being able to get it.

In the end, blogging paves the way for underground or forbidden culture to organize itself in the Arab world. For this, the blogging space is critical. But, this doesn’t mean that blogging alone can orchestrate change in the world. This was evident with the demonstrations in Egypt and Jordan this year which were crushed by the authorities after organizers relied too much on the virtual world for their physical support.

And in truth, we Arab societies are still organizing ourselves, we are still getting to know the meaning of citizenship, and we are still in the phase of establishing goals for what progress means for us. Blogging is simply an introductory phase in this process, conducted in a virtual space that needs more than a virtual impact to have a meaning.

Check out Razan Ghazzawi's blog:
Razanisms - رزانيّــــات
Blogging my dislocations and dispositions that cannot be expressed in an offline world.