“Take the thief [the media] and make him guard [of news and information]” is a sentence said by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1948 when he wanted to impose strict censorship on media outlets so that they would not publish “sensitive” military information, especially if it threatens the national security of “the only democratic country in the Middle East.”
On the other hand, everybody knows the way the Syrian regime upholds democracy, freedoms, and human rights and how keen it is to have the media do its job with the highest degree of transparency and objectivity. This runs parallel to the regime’s recruitment of journalists to embellish its image and that of its men and its accomplishments in an attempt to hide information, figures, facts, violations, and crimes from public opinion both inside and outside.
Media in Lebanon
As for Lebanon, where there is relative freedom, there is a kind of “self-censorship” and investigative journalism is absent. The relationship between the media and security and military institutions, or what is known as “the apparatuses,” is subject to a process of “ebb and tide” and to several considerations. The most prominent of which is political loyalties, at times similar and at others disparate, and a common need to get news and information from their sources, in addition to mutual interests and power-related services that draw closer or separate the administrators of security institutions on one hand, and those who own and work in media outlets on the other hand.
But the surprise came out of the information, technology, and communication revolution manifested in the internet, fast communication, social networking websites, and digital media in its still and interactive forms, all of which outrunning the mentality of rulers, the authority of security instructions, and censorship. This revolution enables each citizen/journalist to transcend considerations and interests, forced and self-imposed censorship, and intimidation and incentives. Therefore, they become more daring, confrontational, and capable of unraveling what is hidden. They expose violations and crimes and convey the whole picture in an attempt to offer public opinion the highest level of transparency. But the challenge is still there, especially with the tendency of authorities, here more than anywhere else, to restrict or block internet and communication services or to curb freedom of publication and access to information or to spy on users.
Will the dictator continue his attempts at making a “guard” of the “thief”? Or will he discover that we now live in a time where it has become very hard for political, military, security, and administrative leaders as well as CEOs of major companies to escape scrutiny, accountability, and punishment both in secret and in public?
Mazen Hayek is a MarComms & Media practitioner in MENA; weekly op-ed columnist in "An-Nahar" Lebanon, he can be followed on Twitter: @HayekMG