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Time to Think
Reflections on the uses and abuses of the media
Fiza Fatima Asar (FizaPK)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-30 04:34 (KST)   
The role of the media has long been under discussion, usually from two perspectives, one emphasizing how it might serve to improve society and the other discussing the ways the media have been manipulated by governments and elites in their own interests. It is unfortunate that the socially positive role of the media is often superseded by the larger interests of a national elite, the manipulative role emerging as the more dominant.

Hitlerian Germany was a prime historical example of how governments can employ the media to influence the mindset of citizens. During the Cold War, exemplified by "Voice of America," the media were once again used to promote the opposing sides' ideas. In some cases, as with Nazi Germany, the media may be used directly to market certain ideals, and in other cases, it is a subtler process, in which the viewer/listener is influenced less directly.

In this context it is interesting to note the growing attention world governments are paying to the Arabic language and their willingness to reach Arabic-speaking audiences. There is a new wave of Arabic channels being introduced by major powers around the world.

Russia is in the process of starting an Arabic channel by the name of "Russia al-Awam," which will be aired in all Arabic-speaking countries. In recent times, Russia has increasingly oriented itself toward the Middle East. With its softer attitude than the West's toward Iran and the Hamas-run Palestinian government and its observer status in the Organization of Islamic Countries, Russia can be seen as playing a strategic game against the West. It's a two-way contest, however.

The West is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Arabic-speaking public as well. As the BBC World Service extends its Arabic broadcasts, CNN is monitoring its Arabic website. France, too, is aiming to broadcast its Arabic channel by 2007, the year Russia al-Awam will broadcast. Germany's channel, Deutsche Welle, is also interested in broadcasting in Arabic. Denmark and Spain are not far behind.

It is especially interesting to note this development, keeping in mind that these are the very countries that have seldom had warm relations with Arab-speaking peoples. There is enough evidence of this discrepancy in the treatment of the working class in France, which, not surprisingly, numbers many immigrants, a large fraction of whom are Arabic-speaking. This population lives under poor conditions and suffers increasingly tougher labor laws.

Denmark is home to the cartoons considered insulting to Muslims around the world. The negative reaction of Muslims to the cartoons only encouraged other European newspapers to continue their war on the susceptibilities of Arabs and Muslims in general. Enough has been said about the "war on terrorism" initiated by the United States and fostered by its Western allies. To fight "terrorism" these countries are committing acts of state terrorism, rounding up and imprisoning Arabs and Muslims without solid evidence, denying them legal access, sending them to jails like Guantanamo, and to other forms of maltreatment, as was evident in the Al-Ghraib torture scandal.

When a contradictory picture like this emerges, it is difficult not to question how the motives behind it relate to the media. Is it purely a desire to reach out to wider audiences, or is it a long-term strategy to win over the Middle East by changing truth to propaganda?

If one were to begin believing in the idea that perhaps Western media in the Arabic-speaking world would be a positive step towards introducing the idea of democracy, it only takes a little while to look at the examples of Algeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Hamas-run Palestine, and, in fact, every other country in the world to see how and when the West chooses to ignore the democratic ideal and in fact works against it where democratically elected groups are not to the West's liking.

These are the very media that showed footage of Palestinian children rejoicing after the 9/11 attacks without clearly showing whether the footage was from a prior recording, or whether the children were not tempted, by candies, perhaps, to act the part. Western media, attempting to break into the Arab world, are just a continuing chain of foreign enterprises, franchises, and companies that exercise a monopoly against the locals in all parts of the world. The problem is when we continue to indulge ourselves in the supposed "benefits" of these institutions, choosing to ignore the way they add to the contradictions around us, and the way they maneuver us away from reality.

Perhaps now is the time we must really question ourselves - is it permissible then for us to ignore the question of media manipulation and elite interests? Do we not have a responsibility in this toward ourselves and others? We may be in a better world today, when it comes to the opportunities we have to filter incoming information and make judgments based on our wisdom. In the age of information and technology, the twin factors of media and knowledge have been transformed into newer and better shapes, so that the role of governmental manipulation can be, and has been, greatly reduced.

No longer should we, as a global community, be content to blame our local television, radio, and print media for the misconceptions and ignorance we labor under. We have a great responsibility to ourselves and others to comprehend and promote the truth. Agreed, technology has reached far and wide, and the Internet is more widely used than ever before. Yet, there are still many to whom access to technology is still a privilege. It is we who can employ our resources, use our good senses, break the ignorance we live in, make wise decisions, and then spread this light among others through our voice and commitment.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Fiza Fatima Asar

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