Prominent journalist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed recently quit his post as the director of the Saudi Al-Arabiya TV, after serving in this capacity for a decade. In an article he published two days after his resignation, Al-Rashed, who also served in the past as the editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, addressed the changes that have occurred in the media in the recent years and the role of journalists today, as he sees it.
In the article, Rashed states that while journalists can and should strive for objectivity, no journalist can maintain complete and utter neutrality, nor should he - since factual reporting, totally uncolored by personal opinion, is odorless and dull. He notes that despite his efforts to maintain neutrality, he himself often found it impossible to avoid expressing his views.
He also observes that, due to the explosion of social media, censorship today has become both impossible and pointless, since information cannot be suppressed. Information or opinions censored in the mainstream media will inevitably appear on some alternative media platform. In other words, today every citizen can be a media personality and professional journalists no longer have a monopoly over the field. In these circumstances, he argues, journalists are under no obligation to suppress their own views, and must not feel guilty about voicing them. He calls on the mainstream media not to fear the social media but to celebrate this media diversity.
Below are excerpts from an English translation of Al-Rashed's article that appeared on Al-Arabiya.com on November 25, 2014.
Al-Rashed (Photo: Al-Arabiya.com)
Churning Out 'Mere News' Works In Theory, Not In Practice
"Even after finishing my last job at Al Arabiya News Channel, questions linger: Are we bakers who feed people what they need, or laundrymen who wash brains and iron them? This question to do with neutrality is frequently accompanied by another complementary and more frequently asked question: Do the new communication mediums lead to media chaos, or [to] the removal of barriers and the spread of freedom?
"Neutrality is a very difficult intellectual practice, and I claim I have tried not to involve my work in my opinion and similarly not to involve my opinion in my work. The former was relatively easy to do. However, I do not claim to have succeeded at the latter, as our opinions naturally dominate us and direct us...
"[Striving for complete objectivity] meant having to imprison my opinions when dealing with news events. This emotional distancing, I felt, was void of humanity, just like skimming fat from milk makes it tasteless and odorless. And because I am a journalism graduate, a student of the field of journalism, and because I have dealt with more experienced people in this profession than myself, I tried to separate the news from opinion, but I didn't succeed much. After this long time [in the field], I admit with relaxed conscience that producing 'mere news' and producing 'pure media work' are just theory. This conclusion has its reasons. First of all, almost all of us have opinions and he who doesn't is subservient. Secondly, it's true that it's our duty to report facts as they are, but you must keep in mind that truth has many faces.
"Today, media figures have the right to distinguish themselves. In the past, it was acceptable for others to throw stones at us when they didn't like our opinion or news, because we monopolized the media, but [today] this is no longer called for and we must not feel guilty. [Today] all people are now all media figures: millions with smart phones now practice our profession, communicating the news, commenting on it and influencing their societies in the process. Media is no longer exclusive to a few journalists, and it's no longer monopolized by owners of media outlets."
Today Censorship Is Futile; What One Media Outlet Refuses To Broadcast Will Be Posted On YouTube
"People's suffering has increased as their freedom has increased, in a natural, negative correlation. The burden and responsibility on people has increased because their exchange of information has increased. With this increase, laws were amended, courts were established and prisons were expanded to address inappropriate comments, or misleading information or hasty bias.
"Everything changed, even roles were reversed. We used to be the source; today the public is the source. In the past, we described those who read the newspaper or those who watched the television as the recipient; however, today they are our partners: they select, copy, print, send, scan, add, delete, color and edit the news. We are all media figures today...
"My experience begs me to ask: What happened to 'responsible' media? Is it out of hand as a result of the engagement of millions of people in it? Although 'responsible media' is a despised expression in our circles, because it is a euphemistic term [for] 'censorship,' it now means a lot due to the collapse of the dam and the enormous flood of information. Censorship in general has lost its value and, with all due respect to the censors, what one media outlet does not broadcast can [be] posted on YouTube; what cannot be printed in newspapers can also end up on open websites or in email. You will often get the news to the audience you want.
"The heightened fears in the traditional media, from dailies to television channels, over the future and the tyranny of alternative technology is exaggerated, as these won't snuff them out. I am confident these will instead increase their glory as long as they are incorporated in the workplace. My opinion here is based on personal experience, as I have found that [what] served and helped us the most, and what took us beyond our limits, is the very same modern social media we once thought was a poison dagger."
 The text has been lightly edited for clarity. For the article in Arabic, see Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 25, 2014.