The Arab Spring took journalism by the storm.
In a region where authoritarian regimes get the final say, citizens and journalists seized an opportunity to stand up to repressive governments last spring. People took cell phone videos and Tweeted about protests, and journalists followed their leads.
Since the revolutions have died down, some states are fostering a more vibrant news community than ever.
Tunisian press was once plagued with high levels of corruption and full of state propaganda. Now, tides are turning, and the Tunisian Interior ministry called for factual journalism in the country. This new tolerance of free speech has lead to a proliferation of news sources. According to the Africa Review, more than 70 media companies have applied for business licenses in Tunis, the capital.
Lebanon was formerly best place for journalists to work in the region, but Tunis has taken over in the annual ranking of media freedom by Reporters without Borders.
Libya has also seen a huge jump in free press. According to Arab News, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton professed "ashtonisment" upon seeing the number of newspapers available at a newsstand in Libya. Currently, there are over 80 new newspapers and magazines. Most papers are published in Arabic, but Libya has even seen the rise of one all-English publication, Libya Post.
However, with so many new papers, the problem is differentiating opinion based papers and factual reporting. Arab News praises "Al-Kalima" as a balanced paper that rivals many papers elsewhere in the world. As newspapers establish themselves, competition will surely edge out lower quality publications and favor those with better content. High-quality journalism remains key.
In Iraq last March, a webchat facilitated by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) engaged Iraqi journalists and Al-Jazeera English in a discussion about the new possibilities for journalism in the region. It confirmed citizen contributions as useful (especially mobile phone videos) but stressed the importance of journalism to verify sources. As in European and American journalism, new forms of communication are both a challenge and an asset to the industry, but can be even more important in countries like Iraq where resources are limited and full news coverage is difficult.
In an op-ed piece for Juneau Media, Zoe Holman predicted the end of state-owned media in the region. The new environment in the Middle East leaves too much competition for authoritarian-controlled reporting, especially with rising demand for digital content. The article claims that the aim of the new media in the Arab world will be to "maintain editorial integrity and capture the attentions of a technologically-advanced audience".
With so many brand new sources of news, Arab state news is more obsolete than ever. Newspapers are learning to adapt to digital content and integrate citizen journalism, such as when Al-Jazeera managed to cover Tunisia's revolution without having a correspondent based there. The proliferation of newspapers in the region is good news for Middle Eastern press, and proof that both citizen and professional journalism together have the power to take control of the media landscape.
Photo Credit: New Turkey