The region’s satellite channels and media outlets played no part in driving the recent protests and revolutions in the Arab world, but did face difficulty covering them professionally and objectively, media experts said on Tuesday.
“I do not claim that Al Jazeera contributed to the revolution in Tunisia; we were not expecting that the revolution would reach that point. The same thing happened in the Egyptian revolution,” Waddah Khanfar, former director general of Al Jazeera satellite channel, said.
“We were accused of taking the side of the people… [but] we did not incite the revolution. It came. We knew for a protest we had an ethical responsibility, and our coverage had to be professional,” he added at the Media Freedom Defenders in the Arab World Forum yesterday.
Mohammad Shabaro, a news editor at Al Arabiya satellite channel, agreed with Khanfar.
“I don’t think that media incited the revolutions, but rather were reporting the developments that took place in streets,” he said, adding that the role of the media as an instigator of these revolutions has been “exaggerated”.
“Creating the revolutions would be an honour,” Khanfar added, “but I don’t think we created these revolutions.”
Ahmad Kamel from the France 24 satellite channel said the news media’s role is to report and not to create revolutions, but acknowledged that many outlets have been unable to provide original, professional reporting from the sites of these revolutions.
When states undergoing mass protests and revolutions attempted to restrict press access, he explained, his outlet and others were forced to rely on amateur photographs and videos sent to them by citizens of those countries, giving a one-sided picture of the situation.
“We had to use some videos recorded by the public, because we were not allowed to reach some places, as in the case of Syria,” Kamel said.
“Syria is a closed country and there are obstacles to obtaining the news, which prompted us to refer to some contacts we have there, but who are of course not professional in news reporting.”
Bassam Ballan from the Orbit satellite channel disagreed with the others, arguing that the media, in some cases, had an indirect impact in encouraging revolutions.
“I think media has an impact in inciting revolutions. When media come to cover news, protesters become known as heroes and this gives them some confidence to go on,” he said.
Ballan agreed with Kamel that media blackouts forced news outlets to base reporting on low-quality videos and photos provided by citizens whose content they could not independently verify, but doubted that this necessity hurt their professionalism.
“If the media changed the manner of reporting, it was in form and not in essence,” he asserted.