The best thing journalists gained in the Arab revolutions is their independence. The further journalists were from the ousted regime, the more proud they were of their profession despite decades of repression of freedom of expression, state control of the media, and the intermingling between professionalism and security.
Arab journalists, like Arab press, have found in revolutions the way out from the hegemony of the ruling party and the conflicts between different political factions, whether Islamist, liberal, socialist, Arab nationalist, or even nationalist. Journalists are now only bearing witness to events and reporting them as they are.
It is true that absolute freedom of press does not exist and it is hard to find a media outlet with absolutely no agenda. Even journalists find it hard to be totally objective for they are in many cases influenced by their personal emotions no matter how they try to curb them. Yet, it is the presence of fixed professional criteria that really matters.
The closer a media outlet is to the truth, the more objective and the more inclined towards providing information than imposing an opinion it is, the more independent and credible it becomes.
The press was named the fourth authority for a good reason. This title best describes the influence and value of the press and its ability to send ripples across stagnant waters and to unearth what is hidden.
This independence is what gives press and journalists working in it this presence, power, and continuity regardless of what political struggles boil down to and which party gets weaker or stronger at a given time.
This, to a great extend, explains why private media was more successful than state-owned or state-run media. It also explains the failure of any media outlet that is not liberal in the sense that it does not tolerate opposing stances and does not listen to all sides of the argument.
Journalism cannot be practiced by people who are fanatic about their ideologies or who believe that they monopolize the truth and are in the habit of dividing people into camps.
That is why religious powers are failing and losing popularity, for people who seek information and want to know what is happening in the political, cultural, economic, and social scenes no longer resort to them.
Preachers can be popular and they can attract many followers through a TV program or an article in a newspaper, but they remain within the framework of the religious discourse and will never become a source of information. Their presence in the media will always be temporary and will most probably be used by the media outlets where they appear as a means of attracting more audience and making more profit.
The Arab press is the winner in this era of revolutions and so are Arab journalists that are faithful to their profession regardless of any political changes.
The writer is head of media at Al Arabiya. This article was first published in al-Jazirah on February 12, 2012 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid