Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Embrace YouTube

Former Al-Jazeera anchor Lina Zahr Ad-Din is coming out with a new book that says the largest Arab news network’s standards have depreciated because of reliance on YouTube videos. I don’t think she could be more wrong, especially in the Arab world.

What good is authentication when governments knowingly manipulate the media and citizens? And, for that matter, those governments bar access to citizens in the form of limiting free speech, especially that which is critical of the government.

Arab governments have long placed restrictions on media — in Syria, foreign journalists are banned and much of the reporting has come from Lebanon — so YouTube videos and tweets from the Arab street are the only way to get the other half of the story. Many times — especially now — it is the only way to get the story at all.

From Angry Arab News Service:

 She says that most of the coverage is now driven from YouTube clips and that in the old days, editors at Aljazeera would not even allow use of YouTube footage unless verified and checked and authenticated.

Ad-Din is stuck in the past with her idea of journalism. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media have bridged the gap between oppressive governments, free speech and the media. Al-Jazeera was lauded for the first major news organization to embrace this, and it helped spur the Arab Spring. Good riddance to Ad-Din.


Arab world needs a Rosie the Riveter

A new book on how Arab media portrays women is coming out at the right time as Arab nations undergo political change that should make governments more responsible to people and, hopefully, give women a stronger and more equal voice in the national dialogue.

Social media has helped give Arab women a voice they never had before. While picketing is visible to any passerby and therefore easily discouraged by Arab men who view the home as the woman’s role in society, social media protesting occurred secretly.

But visibility is arguably the single greatest chance for changing society. If women want a greater role in Arab society, they will have to be treated as equal in the media. Media represents a society’s shared community of ideas, and those ideas are disseminated throughout the day through media. Women in the workplace and, in general, as men’s equals, need to become part of that message.

The book, based on empirical research, looks at how international readers think Arab media portrays media. The idea is that historically, Arab media has treated women as passive, veiled observers. They have been reactionary commentators on policies designed by patriarchal and religious rulers.

But how can this be changed? The first step, in my opinion, should be through giving women a greater presence in media depictions of the workplace.

A 2002 UN report showed that women were receiving better, yet still stereotypical portrayal in Arab media:

Advertisements featuring women in the Arab world nowadays are often showing women as
submissive wives happily using the products being sold.  So the camera focus has turned toward
a different, but still stereotypical direction.  As noted by media specialist researchers, there is too
much focus on housewives and too little attention given to working women.

Arab media should take the Rosie the Riveter approach if it is to push the idea of women being equal to men in the workplace. Of course, that iconic image was US propaganda designed to draw women to the workplace while men served overseas in World War II. That image attracted many women to work side by side with men in factories and jump started the role of women in the workplace. Obviously that battle continues in the US, with women earning 77 cents for every dollar men receive. But Arab countries need to start somewhere, and lending a more positive image to women — putting them in more advertisements depicting working people is a good idea — in advertising is step one.

The Arab world needs a Rosie the Riveter

I don’t believe most Arab states are ready to push such an image, and given rampant unemployment in the Arab world I don’t believe they are in the position to do so. The US had an employment problem of the best kind — it had to fill positions — but Arab nations are having a difficult time creating jobs for thousands of young university graduates.

It certainly wasn’t American society that was ready for women in the workplace — the economy demanded it. With women receiving the vote just 20 years before, I have a hard time believing the US push for women in the workplace would have organically proceeded at such a pace without WWII.

That’s the conundrum in the Arab world. A good portion of the Arab world from the government down to the street may not be ready for Rosie the Riveter. Many Arab nations are based on “traditional roles,” many of which are (mis)guided by a fundamentalist capitulation of the Qur’an, making portraying women in the workplace not only difficult but ideologically impossible.

The Arab world needs its own Rosie the Riveter, regardless of the economic and employment conditions. If governments want to micromanage, they could offer tax credits to companies that advertise with women in the workplace — or give tax credits simply for hiring women.

It may take a paradigm shift for such initiatives to get started. The Arab Spring is that paradigm shift. If patriarchal, fundamentalist-leaning governments fall, there’s a greater chance for them to be democratically replaced by pragmatic politicians who understand women need a greater role in society.

Arab Spring is not the same as post-USSR

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, who spent years covering the post-USSR transition to democracy, wrote last week that Arab Spring nations need to rush to the polls in order to seize the democratic moment. She compared her experiences in post-USSR nations to what is occurring in the Arab world. But her basis for comparison is flawed. As I argue below, Arab Spring elections should delay until fledgling political parties form because the democratic conditions regarding the Arab Spring are not similar to post-USSR Central and Eastern European nations.

First, the USSR represented a top-down style of governance that affected a dozens of territories that would later become free and independent nations. That impacted local political organizational structure in the sense that Kazakhstan, Ukraine, etc. did not have local governing bodies with any tangible effect on the economy, welfare, etc. That is simply not the case with Arab Spring nations, which already have developed strong networks of political organization that would not have been possible in the USSR.

Second, the USSR was a centralized economy. The new nations borne out of the USSR’s downfall opened their economies partially because they wanted to become part of an increasingly integrated world, but they were not prepared for the shocks of misplaced resources and productive inefficiency when they opened their borders. The USSR, by being such a large region and keeping commerce within its borders, could subsidize and artificially sustain failing industries. The new nations quickly discovered most of their technology was so old and the cost of production so high that they were not economically viable in the open market.

Arab Spring nations’ products have operated in the free market for years, although much of these nations’ revenues come from oil. Still, even having that resource is something post-USSR nations did not have, and therefore it is up to Arab citizens to democratically elect the representatives they feel will best handle those oil revenues — whether that means setting up a more comprehensive welfare system, using it to create business tax credits or other initiatives. Most Arab Spring nations have at least some semblance of free markets and politicians therefore must make decisions whether to keep those markets open, open them further or close them. All of these are economically philosophical questions that require debate and dialogue between established parties, and it’s a dialogue that did not exist in the nascent post-USSR days.

Third, while Arab nations’ press freedoms are certainly limited by U.S. standards, they are by far and away more developed than the former USSR. Noting this, there is a greater window for press debate of party positions and philosophy prior to voting in democratic elections in Arab Spring nations than there were in post-USSR nations. Arab Spring nations have seized the benefits of social media, and it would be a shame if those nations stopped short of allowing the press to analyze and discuss party platforms prior to these democratic elections.

Fourth, and final for now, post-USSR nations had no existing foreign policy legacy once that nation dissolved whereas Arab nations are entangled in a variety of agreements with other Arab nations, the West (usually over oil and Israel) and emerging economies such as India and China (also for oil). Foreign policy will be an enormously important issue for Arab voters, where doctrines and agreements could be jeopardized, reversed or enhanced based on whichever party wins the majority. This has serious implications for Israel and the shifting geopolitical power structure concerning relations with China and India relative to a somewhat declining U.S.

As Moroccans vote on constitution, little discussion of reforms’ weaknesses

July 1, 2011 1 comment

Moroccan King Mohammed’s proposed reforms will be adopted following today’s vote with much fanfare and little analysis of the broad powers he will retain.

By rushing the referendum to the people the King was able to avoid an organized PR or protest campaign against the reforms.  The government launched an aggressive PR campaign of its own, and it certainly has better resources (ie: money, experienced staffers and organizational structure) than any protest movement. It took less than a month for the announcement of reforms to today’s vote — hardly enough time for any opposition movements to form and direct public dialogue.

Moroccan news outlets and various organizations have supported King Mohammed’s proposed constitutional reforms, which were voted on today. BBC and Washington Post have viewed the reforms positively. BBC said it will make Morocco “the first constitutional monarchy in the Arab world.” Truthfully, there’s a lot to like about these reforms, and that has people talking. But there’s been little to no mention of some of the reforms’ problems, which I have discussed here.

I believe the lack of reporting on dissenting opinions is a reflection on the inability to spread information. There was no time to organize or come up with a clear and impacting way to convey the message that the King holds onto enormous power with these reforms.

Chiefly, the King still has power over the military and religious spheres. He also will continue to appoint ambassadors and diplomats, effectively keeping foreign policy under his dominion. He also can dissolve parliament after consulting with a special committee, of which he would have appointed half the members.

The reforms are ultimately a good thing for Morocco, as it gives the prime minister and parliament more power.  News outlets have reported as much. News outlets can only report what they can observe, which was overwhelming support for the reforms. I think, however, that if this vote came in August that there would have been a stronger opposition once more information about the reforms’ weaknesses could be disseminated.

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