Are Arab media getting more freedom? How do editors choose front-page headlines? What are the reasons for the advertising underinvestment in the Middle East? More than 1000 participants from 56 countries gathered in Dubai to discuss these questions at the “Arab and World Media” conference organized by the Arab Thought Foundation on 5-6 December.
“The first mission of the media is to spread the truth,” said Prince Khalid Al Faisal, president of the Arab Thought Foundation, during the opening ceremony. “Many media outlets conceal the truth to serve political purposes. When they do that they turn from being truth revealers into truth killers.”
Call for Privatization in Arab Media
Participants in one session agreed that Arab media is getting more freedom as the region integrates with the rest of the world as globalization spreads. Nevertheless, it was widely accepted that there is still a way to go, especially when it comes to government ownership.
“Arab media are still largely owned state-owned,” said Anwar Gargash, political science professor at Dubai University, who called for privatization. “Privatization means that media should be owned by many groups and not just one.”
“Governments in the region need to ease licensing for media. They should give up control. It is the market that should decide about existing media,” said Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, General Manager, Al Arabiya TV.
Dawood Al Shirian, presenter at Dubai TV added: “ There is no option but to become free and test boundaries if it is to survive in the market.” Nabil Dajani, professor of communication at the American University in Beirut, called on media to provide the citizen with more accurate information so that they can participate in national affairs.
“In the game between media, governments and citizens, the last are losing. It is not media that need protection but the people from biased media,” he said.
“The days of government blocking issues are gone,” said the New York Times correspondent for the Middle East, Hassan Fatah. But while governments are slowly moving away from media, self-censorship is a practice that persists. “Reporters who self-censor are more dangerous than state control,” he stated.