Our media vs. theirs!


SILENCE is a language, and some silence is an answer. But we are at a stage that requires a lot of talk and less humbleness. Our opponents, ladies and gentlemen, are filling world theaters with deafening chatter. The audiences await our response and clarification.

It is true that some situations require letting deeds do the talking. But this does not excuse us from speaking up when truth is being kidnapped and deception takes its place. Masses need both a heartfelt speech, and a language of sense and sensibility, as well as, data and facts.

Delaying a response allows your opponent to put you on the defensive. And by the time you do respond, more charges are leveled at you. If you choose silence as a tactic and “no comment” strategy, it might be taken as an admission of guilt rather than a sign of wisdom or “I am not going to dignify your question with an answer” approach.

Al-Jazeera channels were launched years before Alarabiya, Al-Hadath and Sky News came on to the scene as a response. Today, the Arab mind has many options and choices to choose from.

In print media, Asharq Al-Awsat and Al-Hayat came ahead of other pan-Arab dailies, such as Egyptian Al-Ahram and the Lebanese Al-Nahar. Qatar has recently published its own papers in London — Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Al-Khaleej Al-Jadeed and the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed — but the papers have not been widely accepted. They lost much ground when they followed the example of Al-Jazeera — closely and patriotically following Qatari news. For long, they avoided such local coverage to pretend neutrality and appear as a pan-Arab medium.

In addition, cyberspace accommodated hundreds of news sites. Saudi Arabia and Qatar took the lead in this space. The difference is our media are licensed by the Ministry of Culture and Information, and based here. The Qatari media do not associate themselves with Qatar and are founded mostly in Europe, USA, Turkey and Lebanon. The idea is to claim neutrality, and spare their owners any responsibility for offensive content.

The so-called “Arab Spring" tested such claims and pretense. Unfortunately, most Arab media failed the test as they took sides and became tools for misinformation.

Today, we are facing a fierce global campaign from the Iranian-Qatari media. Iran has launched dozens of channels in Arabic, Al Jazeera is keen to reach the international audience through its English version.

Except for few English or Urdu newspapers and channels, we have not made enough effort to reach out and present our views, show our progress and challenge stereotyping.

One obstacle is the difference between our commercial media and their state or party-supported press. It is hard to convince a private corporation to provide a free service that won’t be supported by advertising/subscription unless there is enough state help. This could be solved by providing needed facilities, contributing to expenses and encouraging state companies to direct a good part of their marketing campaigns to our media.

As a result of our absence from the world arena, the enemies have achieved strong penetration into and influence over some human rights organizations, UN agencies, governments and parliaments. They have managed to redirect and deflect accusation and criticism away from Iran and Qatar’s practices and crimes against humanity our way — based on biased information and media. This way, they have put us on the defensive for so long that we have lost much initiative and credibility.

What is required today is a complete review of our media vision (if we have one!) to take its right place in the National Transformation Plan and the Saudi Vision 2030, in coordination with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab and Islamic concerned agencies.

Whether the platforms are commercial or public, they should have clear objectives, precise mechanism, and adequate support. We should take into consideration the difference between Arab and foreign audiences. Different cultures need custom-made messages — not one-size-fits-all approach.

This is a huge project and it may take a long time, but the thousand-mile trip begins with one step. I call on the Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Awad Bin Saleh Al-Awad, to bring to the table the best Saudi and Arab media experts. Their assignment should be to draw a road map for our media and to oversee its implementation. Lets not wait a minute longer — the world is asking ... the world is listening!

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi