Is the freedom of the press broader now?

The changes experienced in the field of journalism include transformation of technology...

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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After my interview on the subject of the media, which was organized by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in the eastern region, some people objected to my conclusion that we now live in a freer environment. The interview was conducted in the presence of skilled journalists, media persons, colleagues and friends.

The incomplete sentence usually distorts the truth. What I meant was comprehensive freedom compared to years of the past when I was still an editor, reporter or even editor-in-chief who had to deal directly with publications and laws. The changes experienced in the field of journalism include transformation of technology that has allowed greater space to those interested in expressing their opinion on the monopoly of institutions.

As a result of the rise of digital, interactive and communicative media – all of which are still work in progress – there are still legal restrictions and social customs affecting what is published on all platforms.

However, the freedom of the press has become wide now, even within the traditional press circles such as newspapers, magazines, books or television stations. In the media, and with its multiple platforms, there are thousands who are arguing, refusing, demanding and suggesting, and that did not exist in the recent past.

The rise of satellite television and websites have opened floodgates of multi-media communication that have coincided with the spread of mobile phones

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Today we can read extensive discussions rejecting what is being suggested by the established institutions and governments. Ministers have been sacked from their posts due to collective expression.

Today, the clergy is no longer beyond criticism, except the mufti perhaps due to his highly-respected position. The same applies to the judiciary and judges. Today, subjects that were not so widely discussed earlier, such as women’s rights, elections and holding the authorities accountable, are discussed freely. People can now monitor the markets and companies; they compare the price and prey on the pitfalls of bureaucrats.

The reason

Technology is certainly one of the main factors behind this freedom. The rise of satellite television and websites have opened floodgates of multi-media communication that have coincided with the spread of mobile phones. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are more than 50 million mobile phones, an average of two phones per person.

At the same time, people’s interests and their interaction has evolved, and integrated quickly. Hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic amateurs are now turning to taking pictures, writing, painting and singing. Audiences are a very important factor as they have raised the status of technology by virtue of their ability to invade the media and communication fields.

I explained to the attendees how everything has changed in our world without us noticing it, even our artistic taste. In the past, there was a committee within the radio and television who used to decide who becomes a singer, and this was the case in all Arab countries. Those small committees, which included sometimes three people used to decide the artistic taste for all of us.

However, after the emergence of electronic applications and the openness of the market, we moved from the stage of great singers to a world of thousands of performers.

The audience will decide who to listen to or ignore, the role of the committees on songs, books, and arts in general is over. Media and knowledge outlets have expanded to the extent that we can no longer measure their borders and effects: we now have knowledge portals such as Google, GPS and maps, etc… we can easily collect their data and conclusions.

Our world today is getting more and more extensive which makes a wide space available. The challenge though is to take advantage of the technology and associated science and maintain equilibrium in an almost zero-gravity environment.

There is no doubt that this is a historic opportunity for developing communities to jump to the new age of technology, which will shorten the long road taken earlier by the developed world. We will be able to catch up and maybe flyover it. We are facing a rare case of catching up with what we’ve missed or failed to do in the past. The development requires an awareness of what is happening, and the ability to deal with it in a positive way.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 09, 2016.
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. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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