Al Jazeera has started to show signs of weakness and this has taken place in the network’s own country where the channel expressed offence and amazement when a Doha newspaper dared publish data that did not suit the Emir’s network. According to the most recent report on “Media use in the Middle East” by the Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), very few countries that experienced the Arab Spring consider Al Jazeera as a real source of information.
Media and Communication
Socio-cultural, economic and political diversity of the Mediterranean (Med) basin does not seem to have been captured by the media. The visibility of Med space is obscured by its classical considerations that still do not think about it as a common space. A common Mediterranean culture is still invisible in mindscapes, though its landscape visibility is evident. Neither the media in the northern shore of the basin nor that in the southern shore has given it its due space. Common concerns of the Med countries and societies do not seem to have attracted media attention though the basin could confidently be called “the middle of the world,” as has the British novelist David Herbert Lawrence named it in one of his poems. The media still does not think Mediterranean.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom is an organization founded in 2008 with the political and financial support – a 4 million dollar annual budget – of Mozah bint el Misnid, the Emir of Qatar’s powerful wife. Its objective: to assist journalists whose lives are in danger and promote media freedom from the heart of the Persian Gulf. For two years Jan Keulen is at its head. Dutch, class of 1950 and a life spent as a Middle East correspondent for Volkskrant daily newspaper.
Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s Current TV just hours after news of the cable channel's sale to Al-Jazeera became official. After the Arab, English and Balkan channels, Al-Jazeera, which is also preparing to launch a Turkish-language channel, took a major leap into the US cable market on 2 January 2012, acquiring Current TV and announcing plans for a US based news network to be called Al-Jazeera America. Terms were undisclosed, but analysts told the deal could be worth an estimated 500 million dollars. The new channel will be headquartered in New York, but in addition to this existing bureau, others will be opened in Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom is an organization founded in 2008 with the political and financial support – a 4 million dollar annual budget – of Mozah bint el Misnid, the Emir of Qatar’s powerful wife. Its objective: to assist journalists whose lives are in danger and promote media freedom from the heart of the Persian Gulf. For two years Jan Keulen is at its head. Dutch, class of 1950 and a life spent as a Middle East correspondent for Volkskrant daily newspaper. This is certainly not a simple task because prior to fighting for journalistic and media freedom in the world, Qatar, Al Jazeera’s homeland, finds itself fighting against its own same contradictions: a forty year old press law, a marked attitude of self-censorship by local media and a closure towards freedom of expression by the country’s more conservative fringes. Unsurprisingly, the Doha Centre’s former director, Robert Ménard, founder of Reporters without Borders was accused by the Qatari press of having invited “the Devil in person”, Flemming Rose, director of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published the infamous satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in 2005, to Doha. Ménard denied this incident in his book Mirages et Cheikhs en Blanc. According to the French journalist this was just a pretext to be rid of an uncomfortable presence for some elements of the country’s ruling class. In 2009, in fact, little more than a year after the Doha Centre’s inauguration, Ménard handed in his resignations
The Arab media are steering political discourse to a direction totally contradictory to the spirit of the Arab uprisings. Arabs came together, regardless of their religious and ethnic affiliation, to overthrow the dictatorships and establish democratic states where individuals are valued and respected as citizens. They wanted to put an end to the culture of subjecthood. But reality is staggering and disappointing sometimes. What we are witnessing these days is a rhetorical shift from the peaceful revolution, which is a patchwork, made of all Arab social and religious fabric, to the revival of old-fashioned confessional, religious and ethnic discords.
The proliferation of totalitarian regimes in the Arab world has certainly not helped the publishing industry. Perhaps the Arab spring, with the emergence of more democratic political systems, will help overcome censorship. However, the reemergence of the book, being not only a cultural but also a commercial product, will also depend on the fate of the markets.
For years, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, television and national newspapers have acted as the loudspeakers for those in power. [...] The risk is that now the protests may mean a transition from total control over information to an indiscriminate and not always verifiable flow of news. Seeing what followed the street protests in the current international intervention in Libya, future leaders in Egypt and Tunisia may not allow the gates to freedom of the press to be opened completely. In Egypt the army has dismantled the Ministry of Information but has appointed a supervisor for radio and television.
"We are all Khaled Said". There was a young 28-year-old man who kept united the protesters filling the Egyptian squares to oppose Mubarak. Tortured and killed by policemen who wanted to search him at an internet café in the suburbs of Alexandria last June, Khaled was at the heart of mobilization. His name united an entire people, who allowed him to speak out with one single voice to say "enough" to the regime’s abuse of power. The images of his tortured body circulated the country and were shared online by millions of Egyptians. Beaten up and killed, probably because he wanted to post online a video showing two policemen involved in drug trafficking, Khaled’s name has been used for the Facebook page around which protesters gathered to then physically take to the streets to oppose Mubarak and his system. Would all this have taken place even without Facebook, Twitter and other social networks? According to Steven Livingston, professor at George Washington University and an expert on the way in which the media influences mechanisms in democracies, the answer is linked to technology, more specifically to multiple technologies, such as mobile phones, computers, satellites and cables for the high-speed transmission of data. All this creates a new environment for news that allows citizens to be more aware of what is happening around them and demand power to be more transparent, open and efficient. This provides an immense opportunity for democracies in emerging countries, as the American professor stated in a recent study entitled Africa’s Evolving Infosystems: A Pathway to Stability and Development. He emphasizes the manner in which digital media increase the possibility of creating health systems, helping the agricultural produce market, setting up banking services as well as improving public security and the very quality of democracy itself.
Manuel Castells has described over recent years (Communication Power is the last book) a balance between the old media powers (mass communication, entertainment, telecommunications companies, TV productions etc) and opportunities provided to people by mobile phones, social networks, all devices which have become very common at a global level. It appeared to be a balance without a predefined outcome. At times one was more optimist (in the sense of democratization) considering many events that ended with the triumph of popular will and transparency (from Spain to the Philippines, ranging from improved participation to many electoral campaigns and the explosion caused by Wikileaks), while on other occasions one has to be more pessimist, considering how heavy the weight and influence of “old” TV is and the cost of TV ads in the political sphere and to what extent economic powers, tycoons, monopolists and the financial interests of a few people, still control public opinion.
“I will stay on as the editor-in-chief for culture of this magazine because now I can really do my job as a journalist, I can be the conscience of Egypt and also the rest of the Arab world.” says Mona Anis, of the Al Ahram Weekly, who, on the subject of the Egyptian revolution, explains that, “These young people have surprised us. We did not think the protests would last more than a couple of days.”
In 2009, European year of Creativity and Innovation, and in our society, defined as the “knowledge society”, at a distance of four hundred years from Galileo’s “heresy”, there is any hope to be “authentically heretic”? Internet, real instrument of democracy, gives everyone the opportunity to get knowledge, entering an almost infinite number of sources and information.