The global information revolution:If you can’t beat it, join it [Archives:2005/807/Viewpoint]

January 13 2005

Arab regimes are frustrated more than ever with their inability to stop the flow of information to every household in the region. They have been studying new ways to prevent the public from knowing the things they used to be able to censor. Some regimes have attempted to forbid satellite dishes, filter Internet access, record fax and phone calls to and from the country, and censor publications at airports.

With the ever-increasing access to information with mobile phones, the Internet, and satellites, attempts to block information will go in vain. It is amazing, however, to see the persistence and determination of Arab regimes, particularly military-based regimes, to find innovative ways to at least divert the public's attention from open forums, and independent news channels, etc.

They started to aggressively launch new satellite channels that continue to glorify leaders and point to their alleged achievements. They have ensured that these locally broadcast channels are available on most satellites that broadcast to their citizens.

But when looking at the ratings, the numbers of people who watch national TV stations has been dropping steadily over the years.

Today, those who have to listen to the boring coverage on TV of presidential visits, inaugurated projects, and other government propaganda, are generally the ones who are unable to get satellite dishes installed. Even senior government figures are not that loyal to their national TV stations and subscribe to major international pay-TV networks, such as Showtime and Orbit.

Sooner or later, Arab regimes will have to realize that they cannot stop the information revolution. They must admit that their propaganda will have minimal to no effect on general public opinion. Their efforts backfire further when they exaggerate the achievements of the Arab regimes, something that the majority of Arab people know is nonsense.

So, what should we do, and what should the regimes do to prevent further damage. The answer to this came in the 10th annual conference of the ECSSR (Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research) held in Abu Dhabi between 9-11 Jan. This answer was to go along with the current, and adapt to the new revolution.

In order to keep themselves in the game, and take face saving measures, Arab regimes must first of all admit that they need to makes some changes. They will have to change their mentalities, and their way of presenting news. They must abandon their control of the press, or at least loosen their grips.

Innovative young leaders in the Arab media need to be given the chance to make change possible. Old media personnel need to be retired, the situation is different and people with modern vision, skills and qualifications are required. The governments then need to let those people take decisions on prioritizing news items, even if they decide to put coverage about the president's inauguration of a project at the very end of the news bulletin.

They should also be given the freedom to start live forums, speak to public in the streets, and let them speak out, criticize, and explain their daily miseries and future ambitions. If the public is reluctant, they should be encouraged by allowing outspoken opposition figures to also speak along with governmental figures.

There is a lot that needs to be done to regain the confidence of Arab viewers so they will turn back to their national television channels.

The ECSSR conference shows us that there may be light at the end of the tunnel, but unless Arab regimes understand this, it may take decades for this light to reach us. It is eventually their choice, and their choice only