Media manipulation as it plays out in the Mid East
If there is a name for this age that everyone agrees on, it is the ‘media age'. Information, the speed of passing it and the ways of presenting it, which details are highlighted and which are ignored, the way it is sometimes even fabricated in a dramatised or cinematic manner do not fit well with the perception that some media outlets want us to naively have about their being completely free or the voice of the voiceless.
At a time that the electronic media have taken the lead, questions of competence, professionalism, technology and persuasion techniques informed by psychological or sociological knowledge and public relations add to the credibility of media coverage.
The media coverage of recent events in the Middle East and Japan shows an acute awareness, on all sides, of the importance of the media. The manipulation, exaggeration or moderation of what is happening is driving viewers who reject the hegemony of the media to seek other narratives from other different and diverse sources and then take the difficult position about where the truth lies.
Various calculations are made when passing a certain local or international piece of information through ‘free' and ‘official' media alike. Political, economic or even social and cultural news stories are structured and phrased according to specific positions and in response to certain interests and pressures.
The same applies to talk shows and interview-based programmes which appear to give diverse views and provide a platform for opposed politicians and personalities and claim that they are absolutely ‘free'; for here, it is about which questions get asked, about what, and who is answering what question.
News stories about the series of national disasters which hit Japanese civilians differ greatly from one media outlet to another. News of the hard and bloody events happening in Arab countries like Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and which have started to touch on Syrian cities, after events in Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and all the countries of North Africa are striking examples.
While the Japanese authorities have been trying to provide information in a carefully studied manner that does not cause panic to the population, they seem to forget that those who seek the truth can use other channels to see a different picture of the suffering and danger engulfing survivors and the rest of the population threatened with nuclear radiation.
While one understands the Japanese authorities' handling of the disaster in a manner that does not cause more horror and panic among civilians, it is difficult to understand why Arab satellite TV stations adopt the typical position of absolutely denying what is happening in their countries while carrying on with the coverage of political activity calling for change in neighbouring Arab countries. Some seem to support a popular revolution in a far away Arab country while ignoring a similar one in a neighbouring Arab country.
Violence in many countries takes the shape of a full-scale war between authorities which got used to, and relished, absolute power and people calling for change and have nothing but their voices.
All these events are described in the concerned country's media as caused by ‘rioters' and ‘subversive elements' and other terms aimed at dodging reality, while they are shown clearly and in great detail in other official and private Arab and foreign media.
These, again, do so for their own purposes while ignoring other similar events in their own countries, or in some other Arab countries.
In this sense, it seems that everyone understands that the media is ‘free' ‘to cover' or ‘not to cover' a certain event and ‘free' to cover it ‘wholly' or ‘partially'.
The West interferes in this or that situation at will; but the dynamic this time has internal and accumulated causes; and in any case, it seeks to find a reason to interfere to secure its interests and nothing else. Even when some Arab countries get into civil war, it waits for the right moment to interfere and co-opt the winning side.
The main objective is of course that the US continues to dominate the Arab region, control Arab freedom and their unity, which the West saved no effort, throughout the past century, to tear apart while at the same time arming Arab regimes with the latest technology for mass oppression and control through the media and other means.
Two months after the popular dynamics calling for individual freedom, political participation and overthrowing totalitarian regimes, it has become clear that this is the age of Arab change, particularly the political frameworks which have been frozen for so long in forms which do not meet the needs and aspirations of the Arab people.
All Arab governments must reform, guarantee individual rights and rectify their relationship with their people by building government patterns which allow for popular and pluralistic participation.
It is good that some governments have taken the initiative and started political reform and abandoned many of the authorities of the ruler to elected popular institutions, because the Arab people's reclamation of their right to express their aspirations is in the best interest of all.
Arab peoples are charting today the future of their political systems; and it is clear that they are seeking a new system characterised by plurality, freedom of speech and the rule of law. This is a tried and tested system worldwide and has proven to be the most stable and the one which best meets people's aspirations.
With the centenary of the two most ominous events in Arab recent history, Sikes-Picot and the Balfour declaration, approaching, we should not be cheated once again by a West which has declared its hostility to the Arabs by continually declaring its strategic alliance with Israel, arming it, supporting and funding colony-building and waging wars on us.
Today, too, it is seeking to interfere in Arab countries in order to achieve its well-known objectives of robbing Arabs of their resources, persisting in the occupation of Palestine and supporting repressive regimes.
By Bouthaina Shaaban