Even after finishing my last job at Al Arabiya News Channel, questions linger: Are we bakers who feed people what they need or laundrymen who wash brains and iron them? This question to do with neutrality is frequently accompanied by another complementary and more frequently asked question: Do the new communication mediums lead to media chaos, or the removal of barriers and the spread of freedom?
Neutrality is a very difficult intellectual practice and I claim I have tried not to involve my work in my opinion and similarly not to involve my opinion in my work. The former was relatively easy to do. However, I do not claim to have succeeded at the latter, as our opinions naturally dominate us and direct us. When I left this daily to assume the role of general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel 10 years ago, the first decision I took was not to allow my articles to be included in the press roundup program of Al Arabiya News Channel because that there would have been a conflict of interest, which is also the reason why I abstained from joining television debates.
Neutrality is a very difficult intellectual practice and I claim I have tried not to involve my work in my opinion and similarly not to involve my opinion in my workAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Work-wise, these steps were easy to take, like skimming cream from milk. However, it also meant having to imprison my opinions when dealing with news events. This emotional distancing, I felt, was void of humanity, just like skimming fat from milk makes it tasteless and odorless.
And because I am a journalism graduate, a student of the field of journalism, and because I have dealt with more experienced people in this profession than myself, I tried to separate the news from opinion but I didn’t succeed much. After this long time I admit with relaxed conscience that producing "mere news" and producing "pure media work" are just theory.
This conclusion has its reasons. First of all, almost all of us have opinions and he who doesn’t is subservient. Secondly, it’s true that it’s our duty to report facts as they are but you must keep in mind that truth has many faces.
Today, media figures have the right to distinguish themselves. In the past, it was acceptable for others to throw stones at us when they didn't like our opinion or news because we monopolized the media but this is no longer called for and we must not feel guilty. People are now all media figures: millions with smart phones now practice our profession, communicating the news, commenting on it and influencing their societies in the process. Media is no longer exclusive to a few journalists, and it’s no longer monopolized by owners of media outlets.
People’s suffering has increased as their freedom has increased, in a natural, negative correlation. The burden and responsibility on people has increased because their exchange of information has increased. With this increase, laws were amended, courts were established and prisons were expanded to address inappropriate comments, or misleading information or hasty bias.
Everything changed, even roles were reversed. We used to be the source; today the public is the source. In the past, we described those who read the newspaper or those who watched the television as the recipient; however, today they are our partners: they select, copy, print, send, scan, add, delete, color and edit the news. We are all media figures today. The only difference is between a part-timer and a collaborator or between a professional and an amateur.
My experience begs me to ask: What happened to “responsible” media? Is it out of hand as a result of the engagement of millions of people in it?
Although "responsible media" is a despised expression in our circles, because it is a euphemistic term to "censorship," it now means a lot due to the collapse of the dam and the enormous flood of information. Censorship in general has lost its value and, with all due respect to the censors, what one media outlet does not broadcast can post on YouTube; what cannot be printed in newspapers can also end up on open websites or in email. You will often get the news to the audience you want.
The heightened fears in the traditional media, from dailies to television channels, over the future and the tyranny of alternative technology is exaggerated as these won’t snuff them out. I am confident these will instead increase their glory as long as they are incorporated in the workplace. My opinion here is based on personal experience as I have found that the thing that served and helped us the most and what took us beyond our limits is the very same modern social media we once thought was a poison dagger.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 25, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.