We were optimistic a few years ago when a wave of Arab satellite TV channels began flooding the airwaves. This indicated the end of the Arab states’ monopolies over one of the most important methods by which public opinions were molded with half-truths, exaggerated praise, the glorification of leaders, the personifications of political life, the hiding of corruption and the manipulation of the population’s primitive social instincts.
At the time, we said that society’s leading powers and individuals would rectify the past’s distorted official course and contribute in building harmonious, tolerant societies that always strive for the better.
Now, many years after hundreds of Arab satellite channels went on the air, our past hopes seem to have been closer to foolish wishes. We did not take into account the legacy of past eras of Arab and Muslim decadence, characterized by repulsive behavior, rigid thought, festering and malicious sectarian division, and an incredible propensity to revert towards a state of barbarism.
Today, many of these satellite channels contribute to the consolidation and acceptance of savage, diabolic methods that never result in the modification of the interlocutors’ attitudes and beliefs, nor in the slightest acceptance that the other party might be right. This leads to an acute and continued polarization of the community.
Today, the non-governmental satellite scene is awash with the same type of praise, extollment, lying and deification that opportunist and self-serving individuals used to spew on monopolistic official channels of yore.
In fact, today many satellite channels are resorting to practices that official channels never dared adopt, with some of them fueling Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife in a criminal and despicable fashion. This includes inciting local hatred and prejudices at the expense of Arabism, resorting to exaggeration and fear-mongering to push the Arab Nation towards a clash with neighboring Muslim countries while ignoring the conflict with the Zionist enemy, and indulging themselves in further establishing a superficial, consumerist, instinctual society, instead of one that concentrates on matters of the Arab Nation, the states and their populace. All of the above mentioned require further analysis to understand the reality in which they exist.
The real depth of the problem and dangers engendered by today’s non-governmental Arab satellite channels becomes evident when we look at all the religious necromancy channels, with their backward, prejudiced and laughable interpretations of Koranic texts and the Prophet’s speeches.
The same could be said about the channels that promote unscientific and harmful medical concoctions, or those that wholly immerse themselves in the new liberal ideals of a global economy with all its many foibles and detrimental undertakings; not to mention the channels that give import to singers and athletes instead of innovators, thinkers and activists.
The problem is that the Arab media has stopped being a communication and interaction tool between sender and recipient, but rather has become a tool to distort and paint a sad picture of Arab societies, and herein rests the tragedy.
The problem also lies in the fact that these media outlets have been transformed into promotional tools meant to disseminate a culture of disintegration and division, a tool that was pedantically described as espousing the art of lying, which fools your friends more than it does your enemies. If only those satellite channels paid attention to that description, and to a saying credited to the late American President John F. Kennedy in which he stated that “the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate contrived and dishonest, but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
It seems that the weaving of absurd historical, religious and political myths has become a daily occurrence in the lives of some satellite channels.
Does this sad state of affairs necessitate that we revert to the time of state-owned media monopolies or enact laws that usually end with the repression of the good and bad alike in Arab countries. The answer is a categorical “no.”
Civil society cannot form an informed opinion, and create a general atmosphere conducive to unrestricted and honest press in the absence of freedom of expression and the freedom to gather within social institutions that are independent and equal to the ruling regime.
What, then, is the solution? There are no magical instant answers, although further questions may be asked that might help us find reprieve.
1 – Would it be possible to minimize the use of violent language, which is a manifestation of a confused, reactionary and illusionary collective subconscious, and replace it with thoughtful, informative and communicative dialectics, so that language doesn’t get transformed into a tool of violence and strife?
2 – Could satellite channels create a voluntary, semi-professional and independent entity tasked with formulating a convention that defines the tenets and methods by which their activities would be governed, so that they can avoid falling into the aforementioned excesses?
3 – Can civil society’s political, professional and trade institutions play an active and effective role in protecting society from the negative effects of such a media atmosphere, instead of relying on governments and their deficient interventionist ways?
4 – The problem with many — but of course not all — Arab satellite channels has become a problem that requires definitive solutions.