The media war!

February 04, 2020
The media war!
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Soft Power is no less powerful than Hard Power. Cultural influence, in fact, is more effective than military use. American pop culture has taken the world by storm, for ages. BBC radio, then CNN satellite TV, dominated global airwaves for most of the last century. Now, they have competition.

Silence is a language, and in some instances, 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 chatters. The audience awaits 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 response allows your opponent to put you on the defensive. And by the time you do respond, more charges are leveled rendering your response mute. If you choose the silent treatment 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” tactic.

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

In the 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 these 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 press sites. Saudi Arabia and Qatar took the lead. The difference being, our media are licensed by the Ministry of Media, and based here. The Qatari media do not associate themselves with Qatar and are published 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, while Al Jazeera is keen to reach the international audience through its English version.

Except for few Arabic 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 a wide audience base and influence over some human rights organizations, UN agencies, governments and parliaments.

They have managed to redirect accusation and criticism away from Iran and Qatar’s practices and crimes against humanity to our way — based on biased information and media. This way, they put us on the defensive for so long that we lose 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 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.

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 Information Turki Shabana to bring around 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

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