Shehab Al Makahleh, a consultant, senior political, media adviser and the executive director of Geostrategic Media Centre-USA, wondered Why media performance has declined in the MENA? He contributed this article dated August 31, 2019, to The Jordan Times.
There are many challenges facing Arab media, starting with national newspapers, news sources, magazines to television stations due to digital incursion, which trespasses geographical boundaries, putting an end to monopoly in the fields of communication that were once the task of giant institutions operating on a global scale. Thus, it is highly recommended to help users and the audience identify false news that has become a phenomenon.
In the past decade, advertising resources for print media fell by two-thirds. The distribution of national newspapers dropped as well, either because of digital copies due to easy access to the Internet by the audience or because many advertisers prefer posting their ads online. Newspapers’ revenues as a result have dropped remarkably. Publishers rely on ads that have now been fully automated and based on traffic volume on news sites.
The question that arises is: Who is responsible for this decline of regional media and lack of professional craftsmanship? The dilemma lies in the collective responsibility of individuals and the media. For example, many people follow social media celebrities, who have millions of followers without providing any useful content. Thus, fame at present does not require people to appear on television and satellite channels, as some Youtubers and Instagrammers have millions of followers; more than TV channels and newspapers due to flip-flopped interests.
A major segment of the deterioration of Arab media lies on recipients or the audience. In other words, some media outlets which respond to audience requests and demands achieve tangible successes. Social media celebrities go by the whims of their followers to secure stardom.
In some countries, there is fear from the media, and this has created a psychological barrier that prevents journalists from dealing with vital issues. Extremist parties and other actors have also contributed to this decline in media and journalism. Lack of journalistic professionalism is a direct outcome of failure of media institutions to provide necessary training for journalists.
Over the past 25 years, the number of media channels, newspapers and websites have mushroomed. In other words, the quantity has not matched the quality due to lack of professional journalists who are well-trained to manage media institutions independently. If we look at the state of journalism now, there are more media outlets, but media independence and freedom of coverage had become less than before. Technological advances on social media have also led people to follow media that are consistent with their views.
Traditional Arab media has lost its role in the industry of opinion and has a marginal contribution to the formation of awareness of the Arab world, while social media has become more powerful and influential. Some media have moved away from traditional means and turned to social media as a better platform to address the public directly. Newspapers have become weak in many Arab countries, even those which are funded, and supported by governments, as the main issue is not related to funding but rather professionalism. Many newspapers do not have remarkable content to grab readers to purchase such newspapers due to citizens’ weak purchase power and absence of real professional journalism.
What these newspapers currently offer depends on news agencies and other sources of content. Very few still have strong journalistic topics that are presented to the reader. Unfortunately, the way such topics are covered and addressed have less freedom of expression and opinion in terms of analysis and prognosis. Since the basis in successful media work relies on science and information, absence of these two elements is one of the major loopholes of media coverage in the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Technological transformation in the world of media industry have raised concerns among the media industry, as this has adversely affected the media spectrum in the MENA.
Thus, we need to improve the horizons of high-level journalism and encourage new media models not only in terms of available technologies, but also in terms of innovation and creativity by hiring national press, digital media and advertising industry figures in order to restore a balance between news publishers and digital platforms that publish what they produce. This comes at a time when many changes in technology and consumer attitudes pose challenges for quality journalism in the region.
Government oversight should be effective from time to time in order for Internet news platforms to adhere to media standards and to enhance confidence in the news such platforms broadcast. The government should also consider direct support for local news sources and provide tax exemptions for media. Information authorities should provide more support to local publishers so that their coverage complements local news. Furthermore, governments concerned should set up independent institutes to provide news of public interest in the future.
Therefore, we should adhere to new standards to restore balance between publishers and online platforms. In addition, Internet platforms must exert an effort to improve their users’ access to news in a good manner.