Free society and free media
For the past few days academics, NGO representatives, officials and journalists from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa gathered in Malta at a “meeting of experts” hosted by the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC) to discuss changing climate in Muslim societies of the geography, challenges and of course how to assist civil society in such adverse conditions. The aim of the meeting was to examine, from selected perspectives, the issues, challenges and opportunities arising from the continued transition processes in Arab states of the EU neighbourhood, with a view to contributing to discussions on a variety of areas such as the creation of mechanisms for structured dialogue on a regional basis in the South Mediterranean among and between civil society, authorities and Europe.
In a way the gathering was an effort by the EU to reconsider and devise its perspective of the developments in the Arab neighborhood. It was indeed a clever approach to try to identify new needs in diplomatic training, and potential for translation to civil society; urge an answer to the question whether the media, traditional and new, be expected to support dialogue and how; to try to identify mechanisms for communication and exchange across nations, the region and beyond and explore whether accepted models of governance apply in civil society organization and dialogue?
The demand of the masses for wider rights, freedoms and naturally the right to get informed about affairs of their countries as opposed to false pledges by the governments and their allies in the media might not portray a promising picture. The situation in Syria where there is a full-fledged civil war with both sides of the conflict appear not shying away using most horrendous methods of killing is of course the worse of all the situations at hand. However situation is very serious in Egypt; Libya is still lacks a proper government since the outser and blatant murder of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi in October 2011. Can these countries usher a new and democratic era? Or will the “rights and freedoms” fire or the Arab Spring suffice with ruining Arab cities and changing the names of the dictators?
With an optimistic perspective we might say that a verdict should not be a hurried one. Is it not a fact that Europe acquired modern interpretation of rights, freedoms and democratic transparent pluralistic governance because of the 1968 generation? It would take decades perhaps to adequately understand what the Arab spring was and what it brought to the Arab societies, as well as the Iranians, Turks and others. Thus, perhaps it is too early to look at separate country examples of developments and come to a conclusion that the Arab Spring has succeeded or failed. Still, one thing is for sure: Nothing will remain the same.
However, it might be argued as well that the Arab Spring managed to bring in new autocrats, ousted the former ones and excluding bloodshed and pain masses did not receive anything in this “colossal change” in their countries. It is not helpful at all to engage in a chicken and egg vicious cycle. Anyhow in the absence of freedom of thought, freedom of press and only the notion of supremacy of law but also equality of all in front of law in that country there cannot be either rights and freedoms or democracy – except its “deep” or “advanced” versions. If in a country evidence concocting and spreading might become an outstanding success when the victims of the operation were many-star generals, top academics and journalists and in the very same country the very same sources concocting evidence against a government policy decision becomes a treacherous act the “state of law” or limits of “rights and freedoms” become all the more clear in that country.
However, supremacy of law, freedom of expression are not just luxury concepts of Western democracies. Media can neither be accused of “reporting like enemy canon fire” free nor can it be expected to disseminate news that would please the prime minister. By nature media ought to press is just one of the fundamentals of any democracy. Freedom of opinion and the right to information as well as a free press are fundamentals for a media that ought to be the critical and watchful eye of the public. In a free society Journalists cannot act as if they are janglers of the governments or some interest groups.