Media and Development Conference III:The Five Diseases of Media


By Hisham Jaafar

The recent explosive increase in media messages has not resulted in more common intercultural understanding. Media help create stereotypes which curtail knowledge and simplify reality. In his speech Hisham Jaafar identifies five contributing mechanisms and sheds light on the role of new media.


1.Bad news as a selling point Media are a product that has to be sold and promoted. Harmony and coordination are considered boring, while struggle and conflict draw attention. Because bad news sells, sometimes facts are presented in a certain way that distorts the image.


2.The lack of varied insightful commentary There seems to be a community of analysts to comment on incidents. But how can a reporter have more diversity of sources to have things explained to him? Diversity benefits clear coverage and profound explanation of events. Sometimes there’s not even time for explanation, especially when audiovisual techniques are being used. Without contacting various sources, without insights into historical and cultural backgrounds, we can end up in a state of complete ignorance, despite intensive coverage. I propose that we draw up a list of credible sources in the area, accessible to any reporter through the internet.


 3.Stringers are strangers Mostly, when an incident occurs, media channels send correspondents to cover the situation. However, they haven’t spent a long time in the area and don’t have a thorough understanding of what’s really going on. So stringers are strangers. Foreign correspondents should really live in a country. Their coverage will be more objective and realistic and they will be able to break the mould of stereotypes among their audience.


4.Media can aggravate crises How should media deal with crises like the Danish cartoons and Fitna? I believe media should be cautious. The reactions to Danish cartoons were, in my opinion, not only culturally determined; we should take into account political circumstances in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and also the migrant situation in Europe. Also all the stakeholders competed with each other, everybody tried to take a stronger stand. Superficial reporting aggravates crises. At IslamOnline we debated and researched the best possible coverage and we came up with a media model to deal with crises.


5.Press as a secular religion Religion has really been marginalized in both Western and Arabic media. Of course since 9/11 religion plays a more prominent role in coverage, but usually journalists lack the training and knowledge to fully understand religious phenomena. Generalisation is taking place. While we might agree on basic values like democracy and the empowerment of women, we must remember that various possible models can and do exist in different countries regulating the role of religion in society.


New media potential cure

 The new media can play a very important role in the combat against stereotyping and the professional diseases mentioned. The explosion of sources means we can easily find different stories covering one and the same incident. Media professionals must use those different stories to achieve balanced and credible coverage. The growth in media channels has led to fierce competition for audiences and a rising demand for professional journalists, making their scarcity an all the more urgent issue. Hisham Jaafar is editor-in-chief of the Arabic website Islam Online, leading 50 employees and generating 500.000 page views a day. There’s also an English section focussing on European Islam, a youth section and one dedicated to Qur’anic research.