THE media could be manipulated even in a democracy, speakers at a debate said yesterday. The debate on ‘Freedom of Media: Fact or Fiction’ was held on the second day of the seventh Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade.
The panellists were Nigel Parsons, managing director of Al Jazeera English language channel; Chris Doyle, director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding; Dr Alhassan Bou Quntar, of the King Mohamed University in Morocco; Dr Yuri Sigov, bureau chief of Businessman Magazine in the US; and Carolyn O’Hara, editor of Foreign Policy Magazine in the US. Nick Gothery, journalist and programme director of Dateline London at the BBC was the moderator.
Parsons said that even when the media was free in a democratic set-up, it could be manipulated by corporates, political powers and other vested interests. But it was getting harder to control, he added.
Countries like Turkey, Egypt and China were trying to muzzle the media, he said. In the West too, some journalists allowed themselves to be influenced by the rich and famous.
Some 1,000 journalists had been killed in the last 10 years, most of them murdered in peacetime. Their lives should not be allowed to go waste, Parsons said. Free media was synonymous with democracy but it was something we could not take for granted.
Stressing the need for responsible journalism, Gothery said freedom did not mean the media could criticise a politician for his obesity, for example.
Doyle said monumental changes had taken place in the media over the years. Now, there were many TV channels and the Internet as sources of news. He wondered how long countries like China could continue to curb the media.
Is there such a thing as “too free” a media, he wondered. Today’s technology allowed journalists access to instant information.
There was a danger that budding political leaders had to be media savvy too. News manipulation was rampant. Politicians were sometimes made to account for their actions but should we demand more transparency from the media as well, he asked.
Because of the stiff competition, TV channels resorted to celebrity journalism and titillation to attract viewers. The avalanche of free information sometimes confused the audiences, he said. A survey in Britain showed that most of those surveyed believed that Palestine was occupying Israel.
Bou Quntar remarked that there was a revolution taking place in the media and we should deal with it at different levels. There were powers in the world that used the media as a tool to govern others, he said.
Sigov said there was the question of who to trust - local, regional or international media. He said most people tended to rely on the media of their own countries.
O’Hara said the quality of a democracy was only as good as the quality of the media. So free media should be a key component, she said.