They say eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And that cannot hold more true in this day and age where states and institutions are confronting natural manmade challenges. How then can society face these threats if it is unaware of them?
Here the role of the media becomes important as it formally updates people about what is happening around them. While discussing media issues in a Gulf country last week, an American friend asked about the situation of the media in our part of the world and whether there is an awareness that it has to catch up with other countries. My reply was that there is always room for improvement.
Customs and laws can sometimes conflict and may differ from country to country, but it is vital that there exist a free, responsible and ethical media that observes members of society, both those in authority and the public. This media should give citizens an educated voice to analyze and make their own decisions in affairs concerning them. If media is restricted, it will curtail the role of men and women in society and reduce them to mere onlookers rather than stakeholders and decision makers concerning their lives. The flow of information is vital to the progress of any society and at times even if governments do not restrict the press, the press may restrict itself by confining itself to political party or religious narratives.
In our part of the world, there has been technological advancement in the media and an unfettered flow of information. However, professionally trained journalists are few. This is because no efforts were made by media organizations to train aspiring men and women in this field. Secondly, turnover was high as these people went to better-paying jobs.
The history of Arab journalism was overshadowed by arrests and dismissals in some Arab states taken over by dictators. All of these were not encouraging signs. What was left were groups of sycophants who would “hail and praise” at every given opportunity or even contrive stories to curry favor with the powers that be.
With the advent of social media and the realization that restriction and gagging would put media czars on the wrong side of history, the loosening up of the media started. However, that proved to be a bit too much as the newfound freedom saw everyone becoming a “journalist, media analyst and columnist”.
These pundits added confusion by irresponsible reporting, exaggeration, factual errors and personal vendettas. This led to restriction, censorship and total chaos, and as a result many websites failed.
So then what is needed? We need trained and responsible people who should utilize all available resources to present to the public news, views, analysis, facts and figures in a responsible manner that serves society.
We need a media that acts as a conduit between those in authority and the public. We also need less control by overeager bureaucrats and groups that question the patriotism of anyone who exposes the ills of society.
In short, we need a vibrant and critical media.
— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena