View from an Arab Newsroom: Terrorizing the Arab Media
By Abdel Bari Atwan

(Reprinted from the May 6, 2006 edition of Al Quds Al Arabi, marking World Press Freedom Day)

The Arab media suffers from an unprecedented case of depression and that is why the celebration of the international day of journalism has reached its lowest level ever. There has not been any tangible achievement worthy of celebration under the shadow of terror and the terrorizing of workers in the media field by militias or regimes—even by the USA, the leader of the free world. Terrorism comes in many forms. The most dangerous forms are bullets or car bombs, and after that come the other degrees of terrorism, such as threatening, prohibition, confiscation, sabotage, censorship, bribery and falsifying facts.

Bullets took the lives of 63 journalists last year. Half of them were Arab journalists, killed mainly in Iraq. In Lebanon, car bombs have torn the bodies of two of the most courageous Lebanese journalists. One of them is Samir Assir, and the other is Jibran Tueni, and God knows who the next victim will be. According to the same source, 110 journalists were killed in Iraq since the American invasion, which came under the cover of spreading freedom. But what is worse than killing is what currently happens in this country—the destruction of freedoms and humiliation of the journalism profession through what has been described in a number of publications about the American administration approaching Iraqi newspapers to sell articles and media material to glorify the occupation and to brush up its image and stigmatize everything beautiful and patriotic in the country.

The greatest achievement of the American occupation in terms of the media and its freedoms is the financing of sectarian newspapers and TV channels that practice division and promote sectarian and racial hatred. In this happy American era, there is no single independent or non-sectarian Iraqi newspaper. The Arab sky is currently filled with satellite channels which reproduce at a frightening speed. The number has reached 250 channels at the time of writing these lines. Amongst these, there are only 10 political news channels and the rest specialize in immorality, superficiality, and exposing nudity.

There is no nation on the face of the earth which possesses the amount of male and female singers as our Arab nation. Even in America, such a number of immoral singers and channels do not exist. Reading is regressing, and the sales of papers are declining. The distribution of books has reached its lowest level, replaced by nudity, video clips, singers, dancers, and gossip magazines with long celebrity interviews, talking about everything that is outside normal tastes and social and ethical codes.

There are three types of TV channels which reproduce like rabbits in our region. The first is musical, immoral, and based on nudity and seductive dance. The second is full of football games and competitions from all the over the world, just to fill the broadcasting hours. The third is honor-stripped Islamic channels, which focus on what they regard as moderate Islam. It is surprising that those who launch the unethical, immoral channels are the same who are financing those so-called Islamic channels. To explain these contradictions, one needs to speak to those princes who gathered huge wealth through oil revenues.

There is no doubt that the future generation is the target. Their aim is for those generations to be brought up on superficial consumer values that have nothing to with Arabic or Islamic values, but which accept the American domination and regard Arab and Islamic issues as backward and divisive leftovers from the Middle Ages. It is not a coincidence that some leaders of the Gulf business class are the ones behind the spread of illiteracy. They spend billions of dollars to finance it and to completely dominate the sky alongside the American billions, which serve their purpose in the form of Alhurra TV station and other radio channels. So when Islam fought the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, it was called moderate Islam, and when that same Islam with its same people fights the American forces in Iraq and the Israeli forces in Palestine, it becomes an extremist Islam, for which dozens of Islamic channels are launched to fight against it.

The phenomenon of targeting the coming generations and stripping their identities will unfortunately increase because the oil revenues that are employed in this work are increasing day after day and month after month. The numbers indicate that more than $500 billion enter the Arabic treasuries (of the states) that produce oil, every year. And their explicit American instructions (are) to sink the markets with satellites channels, because this is the most influential means by which to brainwash the coming generations, cleansing from them any Arabic or Islamic trends which stick to dignity and moral codes and confront the humiliation and the project of domination project faced by the (Arab and Muslim) nation today.

It is unfortunate to see the countries that are expected to face these projects ill and broken. This is for several reasons, which revolve around either accepting American pressure or succumbing to a chronic weakness in the intentions of its Arab and Muslim leaders.

For example, Egypt, which was leading the national media, has become the most backward in this area, and its media system has become the least influential, not only in the Arab region but also locally. Syria is also out of the picture completely. Statistics by Reporters Without Borders have revealed that Lebanon, which is considered the oasis of media freedom in the region, has been ranked number 76 among the 168 countries in the freedom of expression level. And five Arab leaders have been ranked among the top in the world in terms of hating the media, its freedom, and its workers.

The Arab region has lived a short honeymoon, which only lasted for few years. Starting with Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi and MBC, the satellite channels have been competing to organize national festivals to collect donations for the Palestinian Intifada or to save the holy places, but this honorable phenomenon has since become completely extinct and most channels have started to support the American occupation of Iraq, promote its sectarian projects, and publish its adverts, which praise the American “democracy” of killing and fraud in that Arab and Muslim country.

On this day of media, we can’t celebrate this frustrated Arab media reality. All we can do is to pray for our martyrs, either those who are the sons of this profession, or those who were killed by American and Israeli fire. Moreover, we should pray for this (Arab) nation, which became the martyr of the Arab leaders’ deceiving channels and their poisonous money.

Abdel Bari Atwan is editor-in-chief of London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, one of the leading Pan-Arab daily newspapers.

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