Date: Thu, 14 Oct 200421:01:03 -0400
Subject: Arab Journalists Say Media Reform Depends on Political Change
Arab Journalists Say Media Reform Depends on Political Change
(Al-Jazeera, Daily Star editors address Georgetown conference)
By Emily Harter
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Showering both praise and criticism on their own media,
several distinguished Arab journalists declared that change in the wider
political culture of the Arab world is the key to improving the Arab
Thomas Gorguissian, Washington correspondent for An-Nahar in Lebanon, told
a conference October 7 that he wished he were able to declare the state of
the Arab media confident and strong but, unfortunately, that is not the
case. The conference, "Uncovered: Arab Journalists Scrutinize Their
Profession," was hosted by GeorgetownUniversity in Washington.
Despite the technological advances in the Arab world, the boom and boon of
satellite television, and the growing access to the Internet, the Arab
media still face many obstacles, Gorguissian said. "The relation between
the media and Arab government still is not clear," he explained. "The
control or the desire to control is always there. Even the independent
media [are] subject to this control."
The An-Nahar writer said in many cases important news still cannot come
from some of the capitals of the Arab countries because "there is no free
movement, no free access to the place of the event" or "the official is
not ready to give access or even talk about what happened." In these
cases, Arab media outlets have been forced to rely on news reports from
the United States, Europe and sometimes even Israel.
Hafez Al-Mirazi, the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, supported
Gorguissian's assertions, pointing to the negative effects the internal
news blockades create. "When you obstruct the Arab media in reporting
from your country, when you say Al-Jazeera cannot go into Saudi Arabia or
Bahrain, you are pushing that Arab media to create views and not news," he
Gorguissian added that there is also a journalistic tradition by which
authorities in Arab countries use "carrots and sticks" (rewards and
punishments) to keep journalists in line -- more often the latter.
Authorities often intimidate, harass and sanction journalists if they do
not write as directed, sometimes detaining or imprisoning them, he said.
Even though Arab media often use or copy U.S. and Western programming --
for example, many Arabs watch shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"
and an Arabic version of "American Idol" -- they still have a long way to
go to match the quality and degree of reporting on conflict, he declared.
In essence, he said, Arab governments reverse the FOX News motto, "We
report, you decide," to "We decide, you report," as they try to control
both access and reporting by the media.
Private media outlets are expanding, especially in satellite television,
Gorguissian said. "The dishes are mushrooming all over the region. Much,
much better things ... can come and have to come out of that part of the
world" if only Arab governments would loosen their controls on the media.
Rami George Khouri, executive editor of the Lebanese independent newspaper
The Daily Star, suggested that the media could not become an effective
tool for positive change because of the lack of political pluralism in the
Arab world. "Angry citizens who watch the Arab media in the Arab world
cannot then go and vote and change their leaderships," he said.
Another weakness Khouri cited was the media's reluctance to address the
roots of power in the Arab world. According to him, without public
analysis and accountability, "you are dealing with a fraudulent political
Although the members of the panel agreed that changes within the political
culture are needed to facilitate more open media, some panelists cited
progress already being made.