INTERNATIONAL MEDIA FORUM
Change Agenda and the Arab Media
House of Lords, London
9 March 2005
The Arab International
Media Forum (AIM), held a discussion on this topic in the House
of Lords. This addressed how the Arab media cover the issues
of freedom, women and economic diversification, building on
earlier AIM workshops in Sharjah, which revised the change agenda
set out in the UNDP report on Arab Human Development.
AIM is now seeking
additional comments that will be reviewed at a workshop as part
of the Doha Dialogue at the end of March. We look forward to
receiving suggestions as to action and individuals to involve
in AIM's subsequent programme.
key points arose from the discussion:
Change in the
- During the 1991 Gulf war there were no pan-Arab media outlets.
During the 2003 Gulf war this had completely changed.
- There has been little congruence between the concept of the
'global village' and the regional Arab media - this is a challenge
for the planned English language Al Jazeera.
- Al Jazeera has set the agenda for other Arab satellite stations.
- This new media is a pragmatic means of offering debate.
- Arab media has provided an alternative to Western media to
both the Arab and non-Arab worlds. In the West it has provided
an insight to Arab culture and thought.
- Problem of bias - Arab news gets criticised for bias, however
all media outlets have a greater or lesser degree of bias -
this should be seen in context.
How do the Arab
Media Treat Women
- The depiction of women within the Arab media is often distorted
- To what extent is there a need to target a wider audience
rather than educated women in the Arab media given the high
level of illiteracy.
- Will women journalists make an impact once they become editors.
- Practical outcomes are needed - possibly with training, education
- The primary religious authority on Al Jazeera consistently
speaks up for women's rights - stimulating the debate.
How the Arab Media
- The 'stirrings' in the Arab world have been gathering pace
for many years. They did not start in 2003 with the Iraq war
and US foreign policy in the region. Satellite access has played
- Some Arab media provides a voice for an often disenfranchised
- Arab rulers are less able to control information leading to
greater transparency. This is an important psychological and
political break from the past.
- Without a free press, there is little pressure for good governance,
the rule of law and related freedoms.
- A number of initiatives are underway to encourage greater
- Economics is closely tied to politics.
- Economic diversification is important in creating jobs
- Good governance and transparency goes hand in hand with economic
- The media can advocate economic diversification by stimulating
and creating interest in business leaders
Where do we go from
AIM will be taking
these discussions further in Doha. The intention is to develop
practical outcomes. Recommendations from the earlier AIM Sharjah
workshops are attached, as are some of the presentations from
the House of Lords meeting. Please contact the AIM secretariat
with your views and comments to:
George Buchan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arab-International Media Forum
Among the problems the Group considered were the need for more
dialogue between the Arab and International media, including
on the Arab side representatives of the growing element representing
political Islam as well as more obviously Western-oriented elites,
the prevalence of censorship including informal and self censorship
in the Arab states, and the need to defend and protect individuals
who were under pressure.
With the reservation
expressed by some of the Group that foreign "help"
crudely presented could do more harm than good, being interpreted
as interference, the Group agreed that useful action might be
possible if (as in the case of the UNDP report) it was sensitive
and steered so far as possible by Arabs and only in second place
Action could include:
" An annual report drawing together current work on media
freedom by various organizations, concentrating on the Arab
media and treatment of the Arab region by international media,
and supplementing existing work by avoiding reliance on "official"
(state guided) institutions.
" Similarly, work to draw together existing programmes
of exchange, training, mentoring etc. involving Arab and International
" Provision of better source material for working journalists
including translation and databases.
" Annual awards or prizes to highlight the work of those
promoting debate on freedoms in the Arab media.
WOMEN AND THE MEDIA: RECOMMENDATIONS
" Give direct
attention to women education and poverty in the world through
government programs and civil society programs which concentrate
on developing women skills and abilities to change their life
Arab women to speak for themselves, and address their own agenda
" Set up Women's
studies department in universities
of research capacity into women's issues
women research centre in the gulf region
" Study legal
+ family issues affecting Arab women identify differences between
Concentrate on good practice
" Survey of
certain organisations, human resources policy. Are statistics
accurate? What positions are women in? How many women in the
" Address image
of women in school curriculum and emphasize the teaching of
modern family services to both male and female students based
on shared family responsibilities
WOMEN AND MEDIA
" Training of
journalist on women's rights leading work on women such as
" Coverage of
leading work on women issues in the media such as Leila Ahmed's
the stereotyping of women in the media
" Establish women research centre in the Gulf region and
networking among existing centres such as Al Rai'da and Noor
" Media to raise
awareness of women's legal rights
SUMMARY OF ECONOMIC GROUP DISCUSSIONS
1) The media has an important role to play in supporting the
evolution and development of Arab economies.
2) Challenges facing the media include:
" Lack of access to information
" Limited specialist expertise
" Need for closer links with their Arab colleagues and
other international journalists
" Censorship - sometimes self-imposed.
3) The group
felt that these challenges could be addressed by building on
existing initiatives, providing a central database on such projects
and offering support to the media in the following ways.
" Developing a series of specialist workshops to develop
the specialised writing and journalistic skills of those covering
business and economic development in the Arab world.
" This would include a scenarios workshop on the eve of
the IMF meeting in the United Arab Emirates in September 2003
- the first time in the Arab world. This would allow journalists
to understand better the business and political issues to be
addressed by the meeting and offer business leaders an opportunity
to role play the job of the journalist. Other specialist groups
would look at areas such as energy, banking, transportation
and stock exchanges.
" Creating an Arab Business Editors club supported by a
database of awards and work experience programmes across the
Arab world to allow various groups and publications to exchange
information and best practice.
" Setting up workshops sponsored by multinational companies
represented in Arab countries to offer mentoring for young business
people and business journalists.
" Developing through the above a set of case studies and
benchmarks that would be made available through an internet
database available to all as a not for profit service.
The Change Agenda and the Arab Media: Part of the Doha Forum
on Democracy and Free Trade
30 March 05
An AIM workshop on the Arab media formed part of the Doha Forum
and addressed the following questions.
1. Are Arabs better informed today?
2. How can the media support the role of women in Arab society?
3. Is the media offering reliable information on economic transformation?
4. Can the media be trusted as an independent and fair source
The following points arose out of discussion:
- The flow of information is more balanced - increasingly flowing
East to West.
- Economic and social development and open media are closely
linked - freedom of expression and liberal laws are therefore
- The developing role of women interlocks with the evolution
of the media.
- Arab media can be a force for change but face a number of
- The Arab media are tackling some of the difficult issues facing
the Arab world.
- Satellite and internet have made the media more freely available.
- This improved access may result in greater governmental accountability
- Satellite media are challenging the role of traditional fora
for information interchange including the mosque.
- Arab satellite media are engaging illiterate people.
- The Arab media can be an element in promoting education.
the Arab Media:
- The Arab media's independence have yet to be established within
countries where the media have been strictly controlled.
- Arab media in the West have operated as a catalyst for change.
- Commercial media are subject to potential advertising boycotts.
- Private funding of the media offers a broader spectrum of
opinion but there is the danger of being used to pursue discrete
- Arab networks tend to play safe by avoiding difficult social
issues or addressing them in debate rather than through drama
- Other problems include independent finance, legal issues related
to censorship such as libel and blasphemy, and the dangers facing
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