SHAFAQNA- Even after completing my last job at the Al-Arabiya news channel, questions linger in my mind: Are we “feeding” the people the information that they require, or are we helping them to form their own views and ideas? This question relating to neutrality is frequently accompanied by another more frequently asked question: Do new media technologies lead to greater chaos, or does the removal of these barriers result in ever greater freedoms?
Neutrality or impartiality in the media is a very difficult intellectual practice, and I have tried not to let my own opinions impinge on my work, and vice-versa. While it has been relatively easy to ensure that my work does not cross over into my opinions, I cannot claim that my opinions have not interacted with my work, particularly as our opinions naturally dominate and direct us. When I left Asharq Al-Awsat to assume the role of general manager of the Al-Arabiya news channel more than 10 years ago, the first decision I took was to ban my articles from the daily press roundup conducted by Al-Arabiya because that would have been a conflict of interest, which is also the reason why I have abstained from joining television debates.
Work-wise, it was very easy to take steps such as these. However, it also meant having to imprison my opinions when dealing with news events. I believe his emotional distancing has impacted on me in a number of ways.
Since I am a journalism graduate, and because I have dealt with more experienced people in this profession than myself, I have always tried to separate my opinions from the news—although not always successfully. After such a long time working in the media, I can admit with a clear conscience that producing “bare news” and “pure media work” is nothing more than a theoretical idea.
This conclusion has its reasons. First of all, almost all of us have opinions; those who don’t are subservient. Secondly, it is true that it is our duty to report facts as they are, but one must keep in mind that the truth has many faces.
Today, media figures have the right to distinguish themselves. In the past, it was acceptable for others to throw stones at us when they didn’t like our opinions or the news we carried because we monopolized the media; but this is no longer the case. Today everyone is a media practitioner. Any of the millions of people in the world who possess a smartphone can now practice our profession, communicating the news, commenting on it and influencing their societies in the process. Media is no longer exclusive to a few journalists, and it is no longer monopolized by the owners of media outlets.
People’s suffering has increased as their freedom has increased, in a natural, negative correlation. The burden and responsibility on people has increased because their exchange of information has also increased. With this increase, laws have been amended, courts established, and prisons expanded to address inappropriate comments or misleading information.
Everything changed—even roles were reversed. We used to be the source; today the public is the source. In the past, we described those who read newspapers or those who watched television as the recipient. Today, however, they are our partners: they select, copy, print, send, scan, add, delete, color and edit the news; we are all media practitioners today. The only differences are those between part-timers and collaborator, or professionals and an amateurs.
My experience begs the question: What happened to “responsible” journalism? Has this “responsibility” been dispensed with now that millions of others have joined in on the media profession?
Although the “responsible media” is now a despised expression in many circles because it is viewed as a euphemism for censorship, this is now more important than ever due to the collapse of the dam and the enormous flood of information. Censorship in general has lost its value and, with all due respect to the censors, what one media outlet does not broadcast can easily be posted and re-posted on a website such as YouTube. And what cannot be printed in newspapers can at the same time be be published in websites or distributed via emails. In the media today, one can always find an audience.
The heightened fears among those in the traditional media—from newspapers to television channels—over the future and the tyranny of new technologies is exaggerated; these technologies won’t snuff out traditional media. In fact, I am confident they will only serve to increase their quality, so long as they are incorporated in the workplace.
My opinion here is based on personal experience. However, what I have found is that the same social media that we once viewed as a poisoned dagger has helped and served us, helping traditional media to scale new heights.