Government officials need the support of a strong media to implement the transformation plans of the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 toward a modern state and a knowledge-based economy. Saudi media continues to play the role of an educational tool to provide guidance and direction to our youth who represent almost 70 percent of the population. Radio and television programs include many programs that address social ills and highlight the challenges facing women and the youth. Unfortunately, our youth remain confused by mixed signals about what is “haraam” (forbidden) or what is “halal” (permissible) in Islam.
Journalists, columnists and educators strive to raise the level of awareness among citizens who have been brainwashed and pushed into adopting a rigid and inflexible attitude. Part of the problem is the exaggerated suspicions and condemnation exhibited toward anything that is foreign — since, if it is foreign, it must be wrong.
The media has initiated many campaigns to change the negative mindset toward other cultures. There are concerted efforts to project the diversity of different nations and other cultures so that we can receive our share of respect as well. Media outlets cover a wide range of topics to educate the public on how to engage with the international community, politically, economically and culturally. Disrespect for international conventions and disregard for world public opinion will surely have a negative impact on our global standing and hinder the government’s efforts to play a more prominent role around the globe.
The government’s support for campaigns against extremism and the deviant ideology of terrorists has enhanced the role of media and encouraged many to join the profession to influence change. However, the media remains weak in its efforts to combat the prevalent extremism, sectarianism and discrimination against women. There are several reasons for this inability to address the social and political challenges that face this country. To begin with, not many journalists have the professional experience and editorial skills to pursue the role of defending the rights of citizens. They are also hindered by the lack of access to information that can allow them to monitor public abuse and expose inefficiencies.
However, there have been some positive initiatives with some amount of freedom to confront social challenges. There are a few bold writers who have been critical of the way ministries are run. There has also been noticeable media coverage on domestic violence and the excesses of the religious police, and there has been strong criticism of the imposed non-religious values, trends and traditions that allow discrimination against women who portray moderate Islamic views to confront modern day challenges and attempt to change the rigid mindset.
Young, English-speaking Saudi journalists are becoming more popular among the younger generation who speak the language and are eager to contribute to a better future. English is their window to the world and many feel they have an obligation to share their knowledge and information to serve their country and influence change. Today, they have an important role to play in projecting Saudi Arabia to the outside world.
Social development will only take place in societies where a free flow of thoughts and ideas exists. Communities bloom when there are diverse opinions. Saudi society needs to recognize the value of media publications that occupy an important niche affecting the cultural and economic maturity of the society.
The rapid rise of social media websites has increased civic awareness and youth engagement in public affairs. Their popularity has introduced new social dynamics. They have become an essential tool in the lives of many people and have emerged as one of the main methods of networking and social interaction between individuals, businesses and government.
There are about 14 million Saudi Internet users, or 53 percent of residents, and 7.6 million of these people are considered active users of Facebook according to a study published in January 2014.
We live in an age in which information is available at the click of a button. Censorship and secrecy are outdated. They have become obsolete thanks to Twitter and YouTube. Governments can no longer apply the censorship policy or lie to their people. The younger generation is well informed and continues to demand better opportunities and the services available in other societies around them. Citizens today demand greater participation and wish to have a say in laws and policies that affect their lives. This makes it imperative to have a free press with professional writers and journalists. These journalists can give voice to the people and become the bridge between the public and the government. This bridge can help avoid strife and create a more stable and peaceful society.
The role of the media is crucial because it has a responsibility to influence the mindset of the community. Experts in the field continue to address the cultural barriers that are detrimental to progress. Writers and journalists strive to educate the public on vital matters that impact their lives. They are on a mission to identify malpractice and injustice and bring them to the attention of the authorities. Hopefully, Saudi media can play a bigger role in order to serve justice and develop a more stable and harmonious society. It remains critical to raise the level of professionalism among our journalists and to enhance the role of media to support the implementation of the nation’s transformation plans. (From Saudi Gazette)
— Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at [email protected]