Thursday, September 16, 2010

The difference between Western and Arab media (Zvi)

Zvi writes:

Many Arab rulers and journalists have a very different understanding of the purpose and value of the media than the one that is popular in the United States and many other western countries.

The Western Media
In the US, the media as a whole is broadly regarded as the "fourth estate." The belief is that it is important for citizens to have a reliable vehicle for learning and understanding the reality of the society and world in which they live. The idea is that without such a vehicle, it is impossible for a democratic society to function even moderately well. And without such a vehicle, the western free market that is the beating heart of the world economy would come crashing down around everyone's ears. Widespread ability to obtain true information is crucial in a decentralized society.

Of course, every news organization has its biases, and some of these are extreme - but the diversity of the available media and, more recently, the democratizing influence of the internet, help people who want to find the truth to uncover it, and to report it.

There are specific exceptions - media outlets that have openly aligned themselves with a particular political party. But in democratic societies, it is broadly understood that the media, rather than being an attack dog for the government, is supposed to distribute true information.

The Arab Media
In the Arab world, the model is completely different, and with good reason. In the Arab world, media outlets are almost inevitably closely aligned with with the political interests that sponsor and protect them. In most cases - because all but a few Arab governments are strongly centralized and ruled undemocratically by an individual, junta or party - most of the media work, directly or indirectly, for the king/president/chief thug or his family or allies.

At the very least, reporters in these countries know that if they go too far in criticizing the regime or its allies, they will be harrassed, fired, arrested, beaten or killed.

Indeed, the general understanding among Arab regimes is that the media exists not as a neutral vehicle for delivering true information, but rather as a vehicle for presenting and sometimes testing the will of the nation - a very different thing. The "will of the nation" being what the president or king says it should be, it is expected that the media will find ways to support it. It is expected that the media will find ways to attack the enemy (often Israel, Jews, Iran or the west) and at all costs to avoid presenting the enemy in a way that might weaken national resolve.

A few countries - notably Lebanon and Iraq - are sufficiently fragmented that the media - though frequently aligned with specific political parties - can actually achieve a degree of diversity that would be impossible if these countries had strong centralized regimes like Syria or Saudi Arabia.

A few countries (Qatar, UAE) have come to specialize in blanketing the Arab world with sponsored media which, because they are not tightly beholden to the rulers of most Arab countries, achieve some independence from Arab governments other than their own (and their own government's close allies). However, these media nevertheless fall into the tribalist trap of becoming a vehicle for the Will of the Arabs rather than a vehicle for reporting the truth, no matter how unpalateable this would be for their audience.

The Palestinian Arab Media
The Palestinian media is extremely weak and is severely constrained by the PA in the east and Hamas in the west. The reporters would be out of work if they did not strongly self-identify with the Palestinian Cause and if they did not voice the Will of the People regardless of the truth. In a word, the Palestinian media is simply propaganda. The reporters working for the Palestinian media are mostly third-tier journalists. They certainly don't work for tiers 1 and 2 (the free western media and the international Arab media).

But again - for these journalists, the Will of the Nation is everything, the Cause is everything, and the truth is nothing.

Zvi may be too charitable about the Western media.