Jeremy Tunstall hit the mark when he called his book,“The Media Are American.” Two of America’s oldest mediaoperators — the News Service and Hollywood — possess a remarkable strength on the world media scene. For decadesthe news-service wires have been and still are dominated by theAmericans and partly shared with Europe.
Although the American slice of the world media pie iswaning due to the growth of the Internet, nevertheless, massmedia is still in the realm of players in the United Statesand Europe. Even today with the internet and the World WideWeb, news content and information is produced anddisseminated by the mainstream Western media outlets, likeReuters, AFP, AP, BBC, CNN and Dow Jones.
Even countries with a longstanding abhorrence for the Westare clients of the Western media. If one is to visit anynews service on a web portal from the Middle East and NorthAfrica (MENA) region, one will find that more than 75% ofnews content on those sites is a product of the dominatingWestern media.
Even smaller and more local print publications the regionuse and rely for their sources of news and information onthese media houses, both in English and Arabic. Majorpublications, like Al-Khaleej, Gulf News, Jordan Times,Tehran Times and others, carry lead stories on their frontpages that are produced by the Western and European press.Even the Arabic press is not immune. Reuters and AFP storiesconstitute at least 50% of news content inside the pages ofBeirut’s dailies Al-Nahar and Al-Safir and the London-based Al-Hayat or theSaudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat.
Although Western news agencies do provide real-time newsfrom the MENA region, their coverage tends to be limited inscope, focusing on conflict, natural disasters and majorevents like the peace process and presidential visits.Insightful and local reporting about the major issuesaffecting regional countries, their economies and businessprospects, is scarce. Analytical and contextual reporting israrer still.
What’s more disturbing is that the American mediastructure, while it sustains a wide array of expressions,has become more concentrated in its control by a very selectfew of large corporations and a certain ethnic make-up. It is inevitable that these corporations/ethnic groupswill have their own agenda to influence the reader, as isthe case in the United States and some European countries.
The point worth emphasizing here is the fact the flow ofinformation for the MENA region is overwhelmingly flowingfrom the West to the East. As such, it is essential forthose of us in the media business to reverse this processand give the opportunity to the people of the Middle East tovoice their opinions, report their news and write theiranalyses for consumption in the Western world in particularand globally in general.
It is sad to see the Middle East with all its riches,culture, talents, creativity, liquidity and intellect,relying on what is mostly American news, discussing anddebating issues that will effect and shape everything aboutthe region. And what’s even worse is the fact that thepeople of the region, whether knowingly or unknowingly, area very active participant in this unfortunate event.
Today, news coverage has to be looked at from a globalperspective but reaching to the local level. However, sincea distinct characteristic of American journalism isisolation it leads a Western journalist to determine goodguys and bad guys in the Middle East based on preconceivedideas and prejudices, or simply straight-out bias in orderto follow a preset agenda.
Most people learn about national and international eventsfrom the mass media — newspapers, radio, and especially,television. Therefore, the media can contribute to conflictescalation, either directly or indirectly. Media coverage ofthe conflict played a key role in turning US public opinionagainst the Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims and in shapingthe current American foreign policies.
The media can also contribute to conflict de-escalation.As such, media houses in the Middle East, publishers,editors and reporters have the duty and the responsibilityto do all they can to reverse the flow of information andmake it stream from the East to the West. We must provide anaccurate view of the conflict through both words andpictures, and we should serve as an example for honest andunbiased reporting by providing both sides of the story evenif it points out some of our own shortcomings.
What the Middle East, Arabs and Muslims need today is anhonest, clear and transparent effort to create additionalspace in the Western media for their perspectives and fornews coverage produced by professional journalists who livein the region and who have the proper background andexperience to provide contextual, honest and fair reportingfor consumption in the Western world. The Jews at-large havedone the same successfully. What’s stopping the Arabs fromaccomplishing this very important goal? We either have thewill and courage or we don’t. There cannot be a grey line inthis struggle. Half-hearted attempts are not enough and willnot work. Clear and credible conviction is required andthose who have this conviction have the responsibility toact and to act now!
Fadi Chahine, is the Managing Editor of Zawya Dow Jones Newswires in Beirut