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Aysha Taryam: Free media: an oxymoron
June 10, 2012
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For decades the Arab world limped through life maimed by the brutality of regimes driven only by greed. The previous generation lost hope in a better future, and the new one had none, but overnight and without any substantial signs a storm took over the region, uprooting the most ancient of dictators. Hurricane Arab Uprising has hit and as we watched it swoop through in utter shock and disbelief we knew our world was never going to be the same again.

The aftermath of storm Arab Uprising has left many dead and made brave those who remained, but like in the passing of any storm the most obvious remnants are in the form of rubble. Yet even amidst all the chaos and in spite of the confusion we could see new lines being drawn and new words etched to form our new reality.

The political world was altered to an almost unrecognisable entity. Every branch of governance is currently experiencing a transformation and if we believe that the press is the fourth branch of governance then it is safe to say that the Arab media landscape is being reshaped as well.

Strangled by the heavy hands of bureaucracy and political agendas Arab media was just like the people, gasping for air. The revolutions revived what was once forgotten, that the media in itself is a freedom fighter and the teller of truth. History has seen the Arab media awaken and then slip back into its coma many times; such is the impact of great events on journalism. All media channels experience slow news days but in the Arab world the days dragged into years.

Today the Arab media is reawakening once again, rising from slumber it is taking its first steps towards more courageous coverage, treading on areas only a few years ago would have meant the end of a media establishment.

Many who have been in the fraternity prior to the revolutions can vouch for this newly found freedom however mild it may be. Having said that, one must not take the word freedom in vain. Freedom of the press can never be the licence to say anything one desires. Freedom of the press is not the freedom to slander and attack and must never be used to fight other people’s wars. It does not mean manipulating a story into speaking your views. One might think it common sense but in the world of journalism a lot of what makes sense is lost to the lure of favouritism, greed and fame. Sadly, in this truth-telling business truth is hard to find.

It is unfair to undermine Arab media and compare it to the West because the climates both operate in are drastically different. The profession is the same but not the rules of the game. When we say the media in the West is free what freedom do we speak of? You might be quick to reply that governments do not overshadow media in the West, yet that is not technically correct. Corporations govern the Western media, corporations owned by powerful almost governing figures. Therefore substitute one governance for another and you shall see that while the hands might differ the grip is one and the same.

The media world taught in classrooms is an idealistic representation of a world very far from the reality of the profession. Manoeuvring in the media, whichever part of the world it may be in, is akin to being a diplomat, adapting, evolving and finding a way out of the maze of social and political interactions that come with the job. It is not just a question of black or white and right or wrong. It is a grey political world, this world we call the media.

Freedom in the press means freedom from bias, it means telling both sides of the story but it also means responsibility. Just like the government, the press is responsible for the community and its people. Media channels that are concerned about the welfare of their people must adhere to the social and cultural sensitivities. Media being global is not an excuse to be insensitive to the local. The press is not there to offend, it exists to inform and educate. The media should report the chaos not create it.

Say what you wish about media in the Arab world, but say it knowing that no media channel in the world is absolutely free.
 
 
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