By Nawab Khan
BRUSSELS, May 3 (KUNA) -- The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), one of the world's largest media organization, urged governments in the Arab world to invest more in public media outlets such as state-owned news agencies to boost professional journalism and strengthen media freedom.
On a separate front, he indicated that journalism has been affected with ripples of drastic change in the field, namely decline of the published journalism by the bulldozing digital media. Moreover, he cautioned that not all items in the virtual realm should be eyed as journalism.
"For us it is one of our major campaigns on how to convince the governments that public-owned media must not only stay, but must flourish to counter this sphere of lies and fake news," Monir Zaarour, Director of policy and program in the Arab world and the Middle East, told Kuwait news agency (KUNA).
In an interview on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3, Zaarour said the governments must not only invest in media organizations, but also in programs educating citizens on freedom of expression in order to discern the true from lies.
Referring to the development of press freedom in the Arab world, he described it as a "a very complex picture." "We cannot say that all the countries in the region are at the same level of development when it comes to press freedom. Some countries are doing better than others and this is related to different factors," he noted.
Zaarour said there were major problems to develop press in countries suffering from conflicts like Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen, adding that this situation hugely undermines capacity and ability of journalists to work freely simply because they are being targeted, attacked or even killed.
Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 until today, the Arab region is one of the most dangerous areas for journalists to work in, he stressed.
This is the area where the IFJ is putting in all its resources and efforts to improve the situation and the federation is also talking with the governments to assume their responsibility in the protection of journalists, said the media expert.
In the last five years, press freedom, in terms of constitutional guarantees, have improved in the Arab world generally, but practically worsened in the conflict and crisis areas, he stated.
When newspapers are closing down, journalists are losing their jobs, the new model of online media undermines the quality of journalism in the region, he opines.
Commenting on the situation of press freedom in Gulf countries, he said "Kuwait has been for decades a leading country in quality of journalism, professionalism and press freedom." There has been an "established tradition" of press freedom, which enables journalists to do a much better job than neighboring countries, said Zarour who indicated that the Gulf country is not excluded from the effects of crises in the media sector.
Several major newspapers closed down in the last few years in Kuwait due to the changing model of journalism although there have been opening in terms of audiovisual, like new TV channels in Kuwait, he said.
But the changing habit of the citizens in the way they receive, consume and interact with the media is creating huge challenges for journalism. Social media outlets like twitter, Facebook, Instagram are challenging the most advanced societies and media around the globe, said the IFJ representative.
The problem with social media is that it is undermining the business model of journalism based on advertisements. These advertisements are now shifting people away from traditional journalism to social media platforms and into search engines which in turn have severe impact on news and quality, he said.
Zaarour also explained that social media transformed citizens from receivers of news to actually attempting to originate news without prior journalistic experience and training.
"This maybe something positive but it has its own risks. This includes the risk of the freedom of expression which is the right of the people to express their views either in cafes or on social media but the fact that these views are published on social media does not make it journalism," he said.
"So this is a big confusion when people consider personal views on social media as journalism. This is a serious issue. For us it is not journalism," he stressed.
"Journalism is a profession. It is based on education, studies and guidelines and on the ability of professional journalists to produce material," he said.
"The views or news carried on social media are unverified, unregulated and open. And unfortunately in the Arab region, like in other regions, the true news are penetrated by fake news because it is expressed by individuals and this is very dangerous," he said.
Zaarour pointed out that last year, the IFJ had its regional meeting in Kuwait which was hosted by the government of the State of Kuwait and the Kuwait Journalists Association (KJA). Part of the discussion included press freedom in the Arab region.
"We are trying to encourage the governments to say that you must open up, you must allow press freedom because what the journalists are saying is far less (harmful) than what people are saying on social media," he explained. "And we hope that the Kuwait Government will lead this process. We need programs. We need support for journalists because they are facing big financial challenges. Journalism is to work for the public good and states and governments must intervene to help journalism survive because without it society will lose and countries will lose a major pillar of democracy," he said.
Regarding the role of news agencies, he said that since the private media is losing out due to fall in revenues, it is important the public media or media owned by the state should have the capacity to benefit the people. It is an opportunity to really do a good service for the society, he said.
"Their ability to provide relevant content, truthful content is important and for us the news agencies are one of the few media organizations that can continue to work without fearing the financial pressure, without being manipulated by economic interests," said the IFJ media expert.
The IFJ, formed in 1952 in Brussels, represents around 600,000 journalists in 140 countries. It aims to promote international action to defend press freedom and social justice. (end) nk.rk