Senior media trainers and practitioners from Arab countries said today that media credibility in the region is at an unprecedented low level largely due to ownership and editorial influence, political agenda, and the crises in the Arab countries.
However, professionalism can mitigate the situation, they said.
The academicians shared their views during the session, ‘Arab Media: A Question of Credibility’, which was moderated by BBC Arabic anchor, Fida Bassil during the second and last day of the 13th Arab Media Forum at Madinat Jumeirah on Wednesday.
On the panel were Basim Tweissi, the Dean of Jordan Media Institute; Nadia Bilbassy, a Senior Correspondent of Al Arabiya Channel based in Washington; Nagwa Kamel, Professor of Media in Cairo University and a member of Egyptian Supreme Press Council, and Saud Kateb of Al Madina Newspaper in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
Saudi writer, Saud Kateb said that lack of credibility is not something new, “but what is happening in the Arab World is the total collapse of everything credible in the media particularly after the Arab Spring. My concern is having an audience, including the elite, accepting this bias.”
He accused the elite of playing to street passion and “write what the people want not what they need. This bias should not be accepted because the majority of regular people in the Arab World get information from the television.”
He expressed dismay that even in the event of having trained journalists, media channels lack independence.
This position was supported by Professor Nagwa. “Training is important but editorial position counts more. She warned that viewership of biased channels would continue to dwindle because “the public cannot be contented with utter lack of neutrality.”
She criticized the habit of media outlets of picking comments from social media platforms and reporting them as facts without verification.
“They end up fanning rumours. This is unacceptable. It is a crime because it is a lie and an act of dishonesty.”
Professor Nagwa advocated a revival of strengthening and adherence to the professional code of conduct which would act as guidelines for media practitioners.
“These would guide them on how to cover controversial subjects. Professional code of conduct can check on bias and lack of neutrality.”
The Washington-based Al Arabiya correspondent Nadia said; “Whereas you cannot compare the freedom of press in this region with the Western countries because of the differences in political freedoms and social set-up, credibility has to be preserved.
“What is credibility? It is obtaining of trust of viewers. If you lose it and not give them facts, they leave you.” She advocated having stricter non-governmental organizations and watchdogs to monitor the operation of media all over the world. “Media outlets should be held accountable.”
The Jordanian media trainer, Dr Basim projected a pale picture of the issues dogging credibility of media in the Arab World.
“There is mal-professionalism, acute mistrust of media channels – all in the era of social transformation.”
He said that this situation may “unfortunately take longer to subside. During normal times, the media seek attention of audience, but in time of crisis, it is the other way round. The anthropologists call this ‘cultural passage.’ In such times, there is mistrust which breeds conspiracy theories, and this is what the Arab World is experiencing.”
He asked media practitioners to protect the truth. “Incidentally, what we witness today are media channels taking part in conflicts. They’re abdicating their responsibility of covering conflicts professionally.”