Friday, 23 May 2014

Arab Media Forum 2014 Q&A

Transcript of "Do Arab papers face extinction?" 

Q1: An analyst at the Arab Media Forum 2014, being held in Dubai this week, said he believes traditional print media in the Middle East – newspapers - could be extinct within a few years. Do you think the influence of traditional print media in the Middle East is on the wane? 
  • YES! The Middle East is increasingly dominated by a youth population who are turning to social media for their news. This is similar to the trend that emerged over a decade ago when the population turned away from local television channels to international satellite for their news. That being said, for now, the older generation will continue to rely on newspapers and television for news- though even with that demographic we are seeing a shift as more and more people (especially within the elite) are realising the importance of the medium- especially in engaging with the youth demographic.
Q2: Is there a perception, particular by young people, that newspapers in the region are mouthpieces of a particular country’s government and not to be trusted?
  • Absolutely and with good reason- both newspapers and local television channels are increasingly polarised towards one side or another. For example, in Egypt- following the ouster of President Morsi in 2014, we have been seeing a lot of anti Muslim Brotherhood propaganda on many private satellite channels and state-owned newspapers. This is also the case with channels sympathetic towards the Muslim Brotherhood channels, operating outside of Egypt. Syrian state media is another case in point. 

Q3: A report presented at this year’s Arab Media Forum claims that in 2013, out of a total of 135 million Internet users in the Middle East, 71 million of those are active on social media, and nearly 30 per cent of those said social media was their primary source of news. Why is social media is such a big thing in the Middle East? 
  • As I mentioned before, young people -who currently represent almost 25% of population-  are increasingly turning to social media for news. The controversial term the "Facebook Revolution" was coined for a reason, and that was a recognition of the impact of social media in enabling activists to mobilise with ease. Social media has also been an important platform for discussion of various issues and developments which is something very new and exciting for young people, giving them a sense of liberation particularly as this is really the first time that they have had the opportunity to be heard and engage with the larger political and social issues at stake.
Q4: Would you say the majority of news stories being shared on Facebook for example, are not from print media sources, but from so-called “citizen journalism” sources, like blogs and Twitter feeds? Or are predominantly from professional media outlets?
  • I'd say a significant proportion of English language Facebook posts and Tweets are from print media sources. But there are also a lot based on "citizen journalism" sources (and this is particularly true of Arabic language social media, especially in Syria where local coordination committees relied heavily on Facebook and Twitter to publicise and track developments on the ground at the beginning of the uprising). Moreover, in the case of Syria, mainstream media has not been permitted to enter the country and thus citizen journalism has played a very important role. Unfortunately, not all of these have been reliable and are difficult to verify. There have been instances of false footage being used and even the BBC has been caught out for using old photos from Iraq in it's coverage of Syria 

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