Can Arab state-owned media recover from crisis of credibility?

Does state media have a role to play in the Arab world in the wake of revolutions in the region?

A panel of experts and a packed audience discussed this at last night’s event, which was chaired by author and broadcaster Tom Fenton and in association with the BBC College of Journalism. You can listen to the podcast here or download from itunes.


Video streaming by Ustream

Dina Matar, senior lecturer in Arab media and political communication at SOAS, said it would be difficult for state media to gain trust and credibility, particularly if they are associated with the old guard. It will take time before these questions can be answered and they will have to take place as part of wider institutional change, Matar said, adding that in countries like Tunisia and Egypt there have already been changes that were "sincere and quite deep":

In Egypt we have seen a change in the editors at some. of the state media, including Al-Ahram and we have seen a change in the language that is used by the old state media, which is now still under the same name but perhaps under a new editorship.

Other key problems that face the state media, and actually media in general in the Arab world, is the question of ethics, social responsibility, the question of what to write about, how to say things and I think there is a need for some form of regulation.

Faisal J. Abbas, who is a blogger for the Huffington Post, said "the simple answer is that there’s not going to be a future for Arab state-owned media":

Abbas highlighted how a single Facebook page [We are All Khaled Said] set up after the blogger was murdered had "single-handedly taken down the mighty long-established state-owned television and newspapers":
I’m not with the notion that this is what many people are calling the social media revolution or a Facebook revolution, I don’t think it is. If you compare internet usage in the Arab world you find that 40 million Arabs used the internet last year, which is the equivalent of what Al Jazeera Arabic gets in one day. I think it’s a mixture of both.
But if competition doesn’t take out the state-owned media the dictators which use them will soon dismantle them because they’ve proven useless.

Hugh Miles, award-winning investigative journalist specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, said the media in the Arab world was struggling with the same "technical" problems as the media in the West, including the rapid advances in the internet, changes in the way media is consumed which mean the old news model no longer works:

They also have another problem, which is a crisis of credibility, they are completely discredited. For years they’ve been trailing in popularity stakes behind Al Jazeera and also other private commercial channels.

State media in Tunisia and Egypt needs a large overhaul, it needs to reinvent itself and has a very large hill to climb in order to become competitive again [in the satellite market]. To be competitive they need to have the same ingredients as Al Jazeera has, which is a backer with bottomless pockets, a political environment which will tolerate freedom of speech and they need to be able to compete to attract the best staff.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Middle East-based correspondent for Al Jazeera English, said he was not a fan of the "marketing gimmick" of calling it the "Facebook" or "Twitter revolution but subscribed to the notion that the revolutions were "fuelled by information" which allowed Arab citizens to overcome fear:

If it weren’t for the family of Mohammed Bouazizi, the fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire, if it weren’t for his family and friends who went  to the streetsand protested  that night and uploaded the video on the internet for other people in nearby villages to see, and if it weren’t for Al Jazeera thousands of miles away in their studios noticing and putting that image on and broadcasting it to the 40 million or 50 million people watching, other people in Tunisia would not have known that this happened. 

The reason why is because they would have been watching state media and we all know that state media would have painted rather a different picture of Tunisia.