The huge discrepancy between the Arab and Western media is indeed a very strange one; that, and the perception each has of itself and of the other. A few days ago I attended a lovely dinner that was held in honor of one of the of prominent media moguls in the West, BBC’s World Affairs Editor John Simpson, a veteran who has been in media for over 41 years. Naturally, the conversation mainly revolved around the media coverage of the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war in both the East and West.
Complaints, suggestions and examples were exchanged and recounted in succession in an attempt to explain matters and acquire deeper meaning. Another topic that was tackled was how the Western media deals with news and the platform on which it is presented from a standpoint of freedom and rights, while the Arab media still deals with news that it perceives of as ‘extraordinary’ whilst regarding that it is ‘bold’ to tackle it. You often hear expressions such as “what a daring news item” or “How brave he/she is” or the puzzled question, “how did they allow that to be published?”
Being bold, in the general sense of the word, entails going against the grain and beyond the boundaries to the point that could put the subject in a serious risk of severe punishment!
But it is not only the Arab media that is suffering; Western media has become afflicted by the so-called phenomenon of “Murdochism”, which is a trait that signifies the fierce advent of Australian businessman Rupert Murdoch [to the US] who built a biased and transcontinental media empire where capital takes precedence and is more influential and powerful than the journalistic message and the publisher’s honesty.
This new development has led to great pressures on the traditional family ownership of several important publications, as they yielded to the temptation of money and renounced the media objectivity for which they were formerly known. Perhaps the most important examples of such publications are ‘The Washington Post’, the ‘New York Times’, the ‘Guardian’, ‘Le Monde’ and the ‘Independent’.
An accurate review of the general media situation today and the interference of authority in the media, whether financial or political, is reminiscent of the great literary work ‘1984’ by George Orwell. He depicted a new world that was ruled by political hegemony and major authorities dominating over everyone and everything, including the media, which broadcast what needed to be aired and blocked what needed to be concealed.
Today, media is undergoing changes on a number of different levels due to the advancement of technology, the lack of traditional monitoring ‘barrier’, and the transformation of news items into popular commodities after having once been an exclusively high-standard elite commodity.
This might be simultaneously good and bad news, since the concerned party will only exert a limited control over unlimited published information!
*Published in London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on October 31, 2007. Hussein Shobokshi is a Businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum.