- Special Pages
Khalid Al Sayed
In this information age, knowledge is power. It’s also instantly transferred, with the ability to reach millions in seconds. Those who control the flow of information or disseminate information and news can not only influence individuals’ opinions, but also government policies and legislation as well as business transactions across the world.
It’s for this reason that the media business became so important in our times. Media outlets, whether print, TV, radio or web play a crucial role in deciding our future. But despite its huge importance in shaping public opinion, both locally and globally, the Middle East region has a woeful representation in the international news media business.
Of course, no one can deny that Qatar’s Aljazeera has made an impact in the television news segment, but there is an area we haven’t ventured into — international news agencies, which are still dominated by three Western agencies – Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse (AFP), which are known for presenting news in a Western perspective.
The Middle East lacks a strong, reliable, and unbiased news agency that can provide not only the region, but the world with news, views and analysis. As in the rest of the world, newspapers and other media outlets in the region are relying on Western news agencies to fill their pages and space. By dominating the market, these agencies set the global agenda and become ‘news makers’ instead of news disseminators.
One negative fallout of the Western domination in the news business has been that their narrative of the Middle East is often shaped by the Western perspective, which fails to detect the many nuances of the events happening in our region.
Sometimes they give a one-sided view of events, either because those reporting from here have no grasp of the sensibilities, the history and the context of events, or once the news reaches their headquarters, it’s edited (doctored) to suit their agenda. This is the reason why the Arab point of view is often left out in many reports by international news agencies, which is unfortunate because it doesn’t give the audience a full picture for an informed view or opinion.
Aljazeera Network was able to create a revolution because it has been presenting to the world the Arab and Middle Eastern perspective through its news coverage since its establishment in 1996. The ongoing Arab Spring uprising was propelled by Aljazeera and in turn propelled Aljazeera, and with it, Qatar, earned a coveted place in the global media map. At the same time, this honour brought with it scathing criticism too, both for Aljazeera and Qatar.
Qatar has been at the receiving end for another reason: its recent high profile investments abroad, which has given birth to negative and speculative reports in the media, which often do not present the correct information and are misleading.
That is why there is a great need in the Arab world, particularly for Qatar, for an international news agency that will reflect the Arab perspective and provide an unbiased and impartial picture to the world of the events happening in this region or are related to it.
Compared to television channels, news agencies wield more power because newspapers, channels and other media organisations all over the world rely on them for global and local news and thus they have an impact on political, economic and social life. Despite technological advances, a large part of the world still relies on old forms of media such as print and radio. At the same time, Aljazeera is restricted to TV, websites and social networks and rarely do we see the news that the network produces in print or radio.
Secondly, the news agencies enjoy more credibility compared to the television channels because the latter can be seen as agents of the government or other established entities. The government control of the visual media and its lack of credibility was one of the reasons which contributed to the Arab uprisings.
The Middle East is undergoing a rapid transformation in all spheres of life — political, social, economic and in sports. Having an international news agency based in the Middle East, and more specifically in Qatar, can help change the stereotypes and bias that global audiences have about the region in general and the Gulf in particular. Such an agency can present balanced information to let the audience judge for themselves, rather than give them judgments. It will also help governments and international institutions communicate with the global audience, without having to meet prejudiced mediamen who are pushing their hidden agendas.
Media is power in this era of information. International news agencies and new media are the real power in this age.
Hence, there is a global competition to dominate the information resources. Since soft power can create more impact on human beings and their culture, this gives the media more importance and become the real power in society. But the real danger is when those who control the media want to push and realise their own agendas in order to influence public opinion worldwide and monopolise society, economically and politically.
The West has long made use of this soft power to promote their ideas and set agendas for the global community. It is now time for the Middle East to take a stand and provide an alternative narrative.
We have the resources to do this and we only need to use them wisely. Until now, we have not properly invested our resources in the news and the new media sectors and there is a huge vacuum in the sector which is waiting to be filled.
Governments, private enterprises and institutions in the Middle East should see the media sector as a good investment opportunity and take the initiative to either create an international news agency based in the Middle East or invest in the existing ones.