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Walid Batrawi: That’s why There will be no Internet media in many Arab countries!

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Since the year 1991, Walid Batrawi has been working as a Palestinian journalist for various media establishments, including Palestinian and International media organisations.

In a major interview, Hasan Hamarsha sets to discover more about the views of the Journalist Walid Batraw.

How do you define Walid Batrawi?
I won an international prize in the year 2003 for an article that I wrote, about the corruption of the Palestinian media. This prize is called the “Natali Prize for Journalism”. It is from the European Commission and the International Federation for Journalists.

Which mass medium do you prefer to work with?
The journalist is a journalist, therefore I believe that they should not specialise in one field. However many people disagree and see that a journalist should specialise in a specific field.
Having said this, I engage in various fields of journalism. I take part in broadcasting for television and radio. In the past, I was involved in television productions for ABC Australia and the BBC. I also work for different radio organisations and write a lot. Therefore, I believe that you have to have extensive skills to be a successfully qualified journalist.

Which mass medium do you prefer to work with mostly?
It depends on my mood, actually. I love radio and I love to write, however television is also a very tempting field that I would love to work for. Personally my favourite is radio, for various reasons. Radio is an influential tool that people listen to.

Comparing radio with television, sometimes the appearance of a television show may distract the audience from the main story. For instance, if the actor is beautiful or ugly or if terribly dressed, these factors may distract the audience. Whereas in radio, the audience draw their own image according to their own imagination, and this is what I like about radio.

Which mass medium allows you to freely express yourself?
The Internet of course. This is because it has no regulations or censorship. Sometimes I post articles, which do not appear in local Palestinian newspapers, on the internet. The internet is a combination of all the mediums and tools of the media.

How do you evaluate the role of internet-based journalism?
It is very important. I think that without the internet the media in general would be behind. It provides a very good medium for audio, video, photography and text. The media conversion is very important. It is also very hard to regulate and censor material placed on the internet; an issue that is very important in Arab countries. In western society they call it regulations because it is not censorship. However in the Arab world it is called censorship, and because of the power of the internet, you won’t find the internet media in many Arab countries.

Can internet based journalism cause a threat to traditional journalism?
No. I think that people tend to form the habit of going out everyday to buy a newspaper. People like to read text and not everyone uses the internet. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy a newspaper. You can keep the newspaper and re-read it whenever you want. In contrast, you can’t look at the internet while lying in bed or while eating. I don’t think that internet based journalism will take over traditional printed journalism. I think it is completing it.

What are the roles of the media in the Arab world?
I think the main role is that there is a lack of freedom in the Arab media. This includes satellite channels that we believe are liberal television stations. I believe that there are many constrains facing them, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, Al-Jazeera is a very liberal and outspoken news channel; however, I don’t believe that it is free. The minds and thoughts of people are not free.

For instance, if we look at the Arab-Israeli conflict, we see that Al-Jazeera is a very biased, pro Palestinian sympathiser, which is not a role that applies to the CNN, for example. So I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a free media. Free media does not mean how many stations we have; rather it means how free we are. It is the quality; it is how free we are able to report on different issues.

In the Arab world, I would say that the most liberal area is Lebanon. For example, I watch Newsat TV, not well-known to many people, but it has fantastic investigative reporting from Lebanon that tackles the issues of the people. Maybe it is not important for me, a person who lives in Palestine, to know about the electricity problems or corruption in Lebanon. But for those living there, it is very important.

Is it possible to have a completely objective and biased free media?
This is a very controversial question. We are talking about human beings and the human being is never completely objective. You have to be biased towards something, toward yourself or your community. Therefore, I don’t believe there would ever be a completely objective and biased free media.

However there are methods that we, as journalists, can use to try to distance ourselves from a story. For example, if I’m going to report about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict I can’t, as a Palestinian, be completely objective. However, I can be unbiased; I can tell the story of the Palestinians and the story of the Israelis and show both sides of the coin. Here I play towards objectivity, but frankly, I can’t say that I could be completely objective.

In the Arab world, do the media have an influence on politics?
No, because we have never witnessed, in any Arab country, a government collapsing as a result of the media provoking or reporting on the country’s corruption.

Do you think there is a competition between Arab journalists and the media?
It depends. I think that there is a huge competition because of the satellite channels but this should not affect the quality of journalism. Competition is important and breaking the news on time is very important, but it is also vital to be accurate.

An example is when Al-Jazeera reported a story on the assassination attempt on Abu Mazen but they did not double check the story.

Do the Arab media imitate each other?
Yes. When the news channel Al-Arabia was launched, it was a clone of Al-Jazeera with a different flavour. They try to imitate and compete, and this leaves some channels with a kind of creativity.

The huge number of Arabic satellite channels could perhaps lead to information overload in the minds of the audience and cause a rise for infotainment. How do you evaluate this?

I think we have a video clip overload, which is part of the media. We can’t deny that one of the roles of the media is entertainment.

Sometimes I feel that we are fed up with what we receive from the media. We are saturated with news, we only think of what is going on in the world and so on. It’s not that we think the media has not played a great role in exposing different issues.

If there was no media, we wouldn’t know about the recent Tsunami for example. The media is changing the world into a small village, but at the same time it is making people nervous because sometimes we feel hopeless when watching the catastrophes occurring in the world.

Do western media, which broadcasts their news in the Arabic language, such as the BBC or the Voice of America or Sawa; have an affect on the Arab audience?
I think that the BBC Arabic Service, something I listen to, has a huge number of audiences in the Arab world and it has an affect. Sawa is a bit different, since it is new and it’s like a spokes-agency for the US government. Nevertheless, people watch foreign language channels, such as the CNN, ABC and the BBC in English.

Do you think that the Palestinian media is more or less freer than other Arab media?
I think it is freer. This goes back to the history of the Palestinians; they have lived in their continuous struggle and they were very critical of Arafat, even when he was alive. Maybe this didn’t appear in the media, but it did in the streets of Palestine.

If I told you that Arafat did so and so, I’m not going to be arrested immediately. However in other Arab countries, you find intelligence services all over the place and you discover that you can’t trust anyone. At least in Palestine people know each other.

Nowadays it is very easy to call a Palestinian minister, which never happens in other Arab countries. You can meet a minister in Palestine and shake hands with him. This is because many of the Palestinian leaders were initially very popular and very public; they were members of parties or teachers at universities and schools. This is how the media gets their power in Palestinian areas.

Who are your role models on a national, Arabic and international level?
On a national level, my role model is myself. On an international level there are many names, but one of the names I love is John Simpson from the BBC. There is also Ted Coppel in the US who is one of the best journalists. On an Arabic level I’m not sure, maybe some Egyptian journalists.

Do we have stereotypes in the Arab media about the west?
Yes we do. Among the stereotypes are that they are faithless and that they are all against Islam. There are also myths and stereotypes about their family ties. I have lived in the US and I know that there are some very strong family ties. I think stereotypes will always exist.

Walid Batrawi’s articles are available on: http://www.amin.org/pages/walid_batrawi/eindex.html

Hasan Hamarsha -

Hasan Hamarsha has a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Leicester, England and a BA in journalism and political science from Birzeit University, Palestine.


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