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Independent Media Middle East
Report by David Garcia

N5M Amsterdam are considering an extensive exploration of the possibilities for the development of independent media in the middle east at N5M festival with panels and presentations suggested and possibly hosted by Daoud Kuttab. He made a presentation at the NYU TML and also a specially convened meeting at De Balie last night (18th of March). A number of possibilities for both short and longer term projects in this area will be posted shortly.
Report on meeting on Independent Media in the Middle east
Below is a brief report of the main points of Kuttab's presentation
On the 18th of march Daoud Kuttab was the key guest at a small meeting at Amsterdam's De Balie on Independent Media in the Middle East. At a point when the possibility of independent Arab media from the middle east (not only the Diaspora) are a matter of great urgency this was a timely meeting.
Particularly important was the balanced and incisive presence of Kuttab whose credentials for independence are supported by the fact that at different points he has been attacked from both sides of the political spectrum. On the one hand his studios more or less destroyed during the Israeli occupation and he has also been briefly imprisoned by Arafat's regime for daring to screen live uncut coverage of the parliamentary debates on corruption of the Palestinian regime.
As a Palestinian he takes the surprising position that the other Arab countries focus to much on the Palestinian question. It is the one subject (perhaps the only subject) on which there is general Arab consensus and it serves the Arab regimes as a means of avoiding other pressing issues both in the region and in each of their own countries. As a Palestinian he feels equally misrepresented by both sides. Obviously by America and Israel who stereotype Palestinians as terrorists but also to a degree by other Arab countries who speak of Palestinians "as if they were heroes who could walk through fire. When actually we would just like to be seen as human beings".
His life's work has been an ongoing struggle is to establish quite basic (mainstream) standards of journalistic method and integrity. His position is taken against what he describes as a backdrop of almost total state control of media in the middle east. He joked that every Arab nation produces very good and accurate in reporting on every Arab country other except their own. So for him the most vital media struggle in the middle east is to establish critical local media. His approach in recruiting journalists for Amman his internet radio channel transmitted from Jordan is to avoid experienced Arab journalists and to work with freshly graduated students whose practice have not yet been tarnished by the constraining mindset required for survival in middle east state media.
The importance of local media is heightened in the most basic ways during periods of crisis and occupation. When phone lines to emergency services are broken the cell phone numbers for fire and ambulance services carried by local TV become a lifeline. Cameras from windows of TV stations become a means of avoiding trouble spots. This is tactical media created as much out of necessity as inclination.
Kuttab's most recent project has been to set up the web site www.ammannet.net which attempts to break the monopoly of state media by providing people with an internet radio alternative. Jordan like many other countries in the Arab world has this attraction to IT.
Jordan advertised itself as IT friendly and heavily promoted the virtues of lack of censorship on the internet. Like many Arab countries Jordan romanticises IT and claimed to be celebrating the lack of censorship. Daoud took the challenge and said "ok if there is no control I am going to set up a radio station".
Amman net utilises a variety of tactics e.g. uses connections with local radio stations on the west bank. It has agreements in which they pick up our signal from the internet and re-broadcast it on the terrestrial radio station covering Jordan even though they have no official terrestrial license. An important achievement was being able to cover a student demonstration at Jordan University. During the demonstrations TV journalists were expelled Ammannet personnel were able to operate because their only basic tool was a cell phone. With their cell phones and called the studio and were the only media to send extensive reports of the demonstrations.
Kutttab admires Al Jazeera pointing out that it is staffed by Arab journalists formally from the BBC (it was pointed out by...that there were also many key people who had been with the Dutch World service). He points out that Al Jazeera is as hated by America as it is by the Arab states and so must be doing something right. He believes that it has introduced new standards of independent debate to the region. The Emir of Qatar a tiny and previously insignificant principality has been able to put his nation well and truly on the map by hosting Al Jazeera. Although not yet profitable the Emir has gone on record as saying that he would rather close down twenty embassies than pull the plug of Al Jazeera.
But always his emphasis returned to traditional journalistic standards. His motto in persuading his often militant colleagues is "the truth is bad enough". He is against the inflationary spiral of exaggeration and rumour. His key example was the moment in Jenin when 500 people went missing and immediately the rumours started to fly aided by uncorroborated journalism that a massacre had taken place. This enabled the Israelis to exploit arguments about numbers and divert attention away from their own crimes. For Daoud accuracy in reporting is the best weapon.