Al Jazeera Centre for Studies released a new e-book on Wednesday, 9 December 2020, entitled, The Environment of Arab Electronic Journalism: The Contexts of Development and Prospects, by a number of researchers and edited by Dr. Mohamed Erraji, supervisor of the Media Studies Programme.
The book presents a cognitive rooting of the contexts of Arab e-journalism’s establishment and development and an approach to the challenges of the structural, legislative, professional and technological composition and future of this journalistic sector through the process of studying different media environments, or “the ecology of media.”
The importance of the book stems from the nature of professional transformations witnessed in the Arab world that the editor describes as rapid and structural. The most prominent of these is the attempt of conventional media to survive in the digital world, as displayed by a number of daily newspapers as well as the establishment of a new economic model that is free from the stage of experimentation and avocation, the growing roles of e-journalism in the development of the public domain and democratic participation in some Arab societies, and the different challenges threatening its existence given the spread of social media networks.
The book explains that Arab e-journalism developed in several stages: the first stage (1995-1999), in which there was no clear vision of what this type of journalism was or the nature of the historical transformation that the world is witnessing. The second stage (2000-2010) was marked by the appearance of news websites independent from print journalism and public electronic portals that offered informational and documentary services, reflecting one form of e-journalism as well as the rise of journalistic blogging practiced mainly by professional journalists independently. The third stage, which began about ten years ago with the Arab Spring and continues to this day, is distinguished by the emergence of a greater role and a wider presence for e-journalism in public life, the quantitative expansion of electronic newspapers, the rise of new news outlets that are more professional and closer to the new professional standards of digital journalism, the relative increase of e-journalism’s share of the market for media advertisements – though it remains weak relative to the shares of conventional media outlets and digital media platforms, especially social media networks.
With regards to the relationship between the development of Arab e-journalism and the legal and legislative environment in which it operates, the book highlights the delay in keeping up with Arab legislations and laws relative to the rapid development of e-journalism, attributing it to the complexity of stages that laws and legislations pass while being drafted and the various routes they take. The book discusses the necessity of establishing an Arab regional code for electronic media to guide states when developing internal electronic media laws, which requires legally and legislatively separating electronic media from printed media and publishing.
On the subject of the economic challenges facing Arab electronic journalism, the book argues that it needs an economic model that lines up with the communicative features of the web and human communication through the internet and responds to the developments that arise with the changing needs of recipients of media content and their changing habits in receiving media.
In terms of the role of Arab e-journalism in the formation and direction of public opinion, the book maintains that it contributes not through debate and analysis but by casting judgements about current issues, problems and events, which remains one of its challenges.
Through the study of certain cases, the book reveals that e-journalism in Jordan, for example, is in need of a “liberty-friendly environment” through the emergence of a new mindset that has experience in managing media instead of the mentality that remains conservative in the rotation of traditional leadership and the enactment of laws and legislations that eliminate its philosophy and spirit of restriction, criminalisation and punishment seen in the current cybercrime law.
When it comes to mechanisms of co-existence and competition between Arab e-journalism and social media platforms, the book asserts that the competition is alive well with increasing preferential features in favour of the latter as a result of the development of smart phone technology. Nonetheless, there are opportunities for electronic newspapers to regain their lustre if they utilise this technology and are able to create a balance between verifying the authenticity and accuracy of news and the speed of their publication as well as use local networks by integrating editors into communication groups for common interests and benefiting from conversations taking place in them to generate new ideas for creative journalistic content in addition to exerting effort to attracting distinguished written or multimedia content through social media networks and integrating their production with the content of the newspaper's website in a unified manner.
Finally, as it pertains to the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on Arab e-journalism, which is currently one of the most important challenges, the book argues that the pandemic revealed the dangers of waiting to resolve structural crises, which contributed to the partial collapse of the news environment with the exacerbation of the pandemic. Fake news spread, institutions responsible for the spread of news fell apart, and social media platforms acquired the pathways of information distribution and digital advertising. The book also clarifies that the conditions of early solutions adopted by e-journalism in the advanced world have not yet been met in the Arab world for numerous reasons including: the strategy of content for compensation, as practiced by global e-journalism, requires a digital environment with electronic payment technologies. Given the limitedness of citizens’ ability to purchase journalistic content and Arab journalistic institutions’ inability to produce good content that is worth monetary compensation, the shift towards this type of development for Arab e-journalism is difficult and requires a public policy from Arab states in which they offer support for independent e-journalism, as seen in Europe. The book concludes that Arab e-journalism cannot survive and develop without this assistance.
The Environment of Arab Electronic Journalism: The Contexts of Development and Prospects can be viewed or downloaded here.