News / Middle East

Arab Media Re-Defines Itself Post-Arab Spring

FILE - Al Jazeera English Channel staff prepare for the broadcast in Doha news room in Qatar.
FILE - Al Jazeera English Channel staff prepare for the broadcast in Doha news room in Qatar.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
Has the Arab media helped foster political pluralism or has it further divided societies along political and sectarian lines since the Arab Spring?  Experts say while the Arab media played a key role in the ouster of several authoritarian governments, in countries since then, media outlets have taken political sides leading to political and sectarian polarization.  

Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of journalism and mass communications at the American University in Cairo says while the media played a key role in Egypt promoting democracy in the early days of the Arab Spring -- that changed dramatically after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi last July.

“Since July 3, the Egyptian media have covered current events in a hysterical manner, and the media narrative is almost completely one-sided. There are palpable narratives of military adulation and hyper nationalism, and forces against the military coup are portrayed as treasonous, treacherous, and terrorist,” said Elmasry

Media outlets exploded in Libya in the wake of the revolution that ousted longtime-dictator Moammar Gadhafi but Aly Abuzaakouk, a leading pro-democracy Libyan activist, based in Benghazi, says since then the media has not always played a constructive role.

“While there are some media outlets that proved to be professional and inclusive, there are others who are focused on mobilizing their respective audience to support tribalism and regionalism,” he said.

And journalists are increasingly in danger in Libya.  Reporters Without Borders recently warned against mounting violence against journalists there and urged authorities to do more to “improve the environment in which the country’s journalists work.”

The impact of social media

Social media has transformed the Arab media world but whether it has hurt or helped Arab societies is an open question.

Sahar Khamis, a professor at the University of Maryland, says initially social media empowered many ordinary citizens.

“Al Jazeera disseminated this type of media content by asking citizens to send their videos online; this citizen journalism encouraged undecided citizens to come out and participate,” she said.

But Khamis says since then, social media outlets have been used as pawns in a larger political struggle.

“When people have a shared goal like ousting dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, social media became a tool for unifying people, but if people are divided and fragmented like Egyptians after ousting President Mohamed Morsi, then social media becomes a tool for polarization, widening the gap between political rivals,” Khamis said. 

Sara El-Khalili, a journalism lecturer at the American University in Cairo says the Egyptian military has been especially effective using social media to promote its agenda. 

“Realizing the need to speak the same language of Egyptian youth, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces created an official Facebook page to communicate with the people,” she said.

Sahar Khamis also says governments and other state actors are getting better at using social media as a tool for repression.

“Some Arab regimes were able to hack political activists’ websites.  The Syrian Electronic Army was able to trace the electronic addresses of different activists and blocked them.

In Libya security forces traced an activist who used his home computer as a broadcasting station and shot him to death,” she said. 

The recent court case in Egypt against five Al Jazeera journalists accused of engaging with a terrorist organization and disseminating false information says Khamis is a real setback to the sort of pluralism that social media tried to promote.

“The message now is clear; if you are not telling the pro-Egyptian government narrative, you run harsh consequences. This is a form of media intimidation because it means that any attempt to balance the story by including the Muslim Brotherhood narrative means running the risk of being stigmatized as communicating with a banned terrorist organization,” she said.

Tunisia breaks the cycle

Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, has taken a different path.  Oussama Romdhani, a former minister of communications in Tunisia says because of strong civil society protections like independent media unions and a regulatory body that protects media workers, Tunisia’s media has managed to emerge as a major force for promoting pluralism in a post-Arab Spring society.

“Radio and television stations, including public-owned institutions, have become really- pluralistic forums.  By allowing the expression of vying views and by providing unfettered access to political events, public and private media have been able to promote democratic pluralism,” he said.

Romdhani says Tunisia’s media played a constructive role in educating the public about contentious political issues, but he warns that continuing civil strife has led to a tendency among some media outlets to make political activism their first priority at the expense of balance.

“Whether motivated by business interests or political/ideological agendas, such media factionalism can increase confrontation instead of pluralistic debates. It can even endanger the unity of already-divided Arab societies.” Romdhani said.

The way forward

Mohamed Elmasry says the Arab media is in need of a comprehensive overhaul.

“I think that journalism education, first and foremost, needs to be restructured. Currently, the quality of journalism education in the Arab world is lacking, and the quality of education is especially problematic in Egypt. Journalists are in need of much more training on the principles of journalism, and how to write news,” he said.

He also recommends establishing an independent body of scholars and professional journalists to monitor the performance of the press, establish guidelines, and provide constant feedback to journalists and news organizations.

“I think giving news organizations the educational tools to act professionally, and holding news organizations to a higher standard of professionalism, will go a long way towards ensuring pluralism,” said Elmasry.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Commerce from: USA - TV
March 28, 2014 4:38 PM
AlJazeera is a septic contagion that must be eradicate from the US media. I absolutely agree with the sentiments expressed here. AlJazeera facilitates and encourage terrorist activities against the US, Israel and Europe. Al Jazeera must be expunged from our broadcast spectrum.

by: Donna Martin from: UK
March 08, 2014 9:13 PM
PLEASE...!!! Al Jazeera is the PR branch of Islamic terrorist organization... and no amount of "redefinition" will obscure the fact... and the BBC purified corruption is becoming almost indistinguishable from Al Jazeera.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs