It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that the people working in the media, in all its various forms, number well over a million, whereas ten years ago there were just a few thousand working in this field. As for the audience, its number has soared to tens of millions. The secret lies in the development in technology, the Internet and satellite transmission.
In the years that followed the invasion of the Internet in the Arab world, things changed drastically. The press expanded significantly and today we have a society of a million journalists. The media has grown and become a real power. It has gained more influence and has become far more independent and popular than ever before. But has the Arab world changed for the better or worse? Everybody has their own opinion. There are those who are faced with chaos everywhere they turn who believe that the traditions of society are no longer valued, and that the principles of the profession are no longer respected. The media, in their opinion, has transformed into a weapon that is always causing trouble and they state that the most popular internet pages are of a sexual nature and that it is the terrorists that benefit most from the internet.
Others believe that modern media has taken a giant qualitative leap forward and has influenced our lives politically, economically, socially and with regards to humanity. They refer to the magnitude of useful information in different fields of science and art provided by the internet and its availability to the general public. I belong to this camp.
I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. We have to get through the present disorderly media phase until the media organizes itself and sets rules for those working within it. It will then become more mature and beneficial. We live in a wonderful and exciting age thanks to all these new forms of media that have helped overcome the technical, material, political and legal obstacles. In the past, delivering newspapers to certain areas constituted a real effort, money and risk. Many remote areas were impossible to reach. As a result, the media was confined to major cities and to parts of society that had education and money. Moreover, the media was subjected to many restrictions.
Search engines such as Google have been a blessing for those who suffered in the past from the tedious search process. What’s more, the internet constitutes an important solution for the less fortunate countries in terms of education, culture and interaction. It links them directly to the more scientifically- and culturally-developed societies and provides them with the same tools for progress. But just like any other medium, the internet has to be utilized in the right way and promoted to the public.
This is the responsibility of official and private institutions that ought to turn the internet into an educational tool for all to benefit from, especially people in rural areas who may not receive the same level of education as people in the cities. It would also help youngsters grow up to be cultured and qualified individuals.
The media revolution in the Arab world fails to be understood and studied closely, and lacks the effort to use it in the best way possible.
I believe that we have been presented with a precious gift and a golden opportunity and we should make the most of it. The internet can take you anywhere but you must choose your destination.
* Published in the London based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on April 20. Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al Arabiya television