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Human rights issues poorly covered in Arabic on the Internet, finds study

Poor coverage: The most frequent media content on Aljazeera.net among the total results is pivoted along both subjects of political activism and human rights advocates. The reason behind this is due to the news-informative nature of Aljazeera.net and its intensive source coverage especially during times of wars and political crises as in the case of the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Darfur crisis and also due to the relation between these crises.

The Internet has not yet become an effective tool for human rights in the Arab world, says a recent study by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo). The 215-page study, 'Electronic Media and Human Rights', is the first in Arabic to discuss human rights in the discourse of electronic Arabic media outlets. It also surveyed use of the Internet by human rights organisations.

Although many stories and reports mention "human rights," the study concluded that human rights as a discourse and guiding principle do not seem to influence general reporting in the electronic Arab media. It focused on eight prominent media outlets — aljazeera.net, alarabiya.net, islamonline.net, elaph.com, copts-united.com, moheet.com, middle-east-online.com, and naseej.com — during 2006, and human rights organisations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and France.

"Arab governments dominate traditional media outlets such as newspapers and TV stations, so we have nowhere to go but the electronic media," said Gamal Eid, HRinfo Executive Director. "We hope to see an electronic media which is more consistent with human rights values rather than only reporting the violations of these rights." This study was started by Egyptian researcher Mohammed Hakim, who died midway, and completed by assistant researcher Abdo Abdelaziz.

The coverage and inclusion as a reference of four essential rights; women's rights, minorities' rights, tolerance with the other, refugees' rights and the right to a private life, were handled in the study. It tackled the relation between human rights organisations and the Internet.

The study focused on eight Arab human rights organisations varying in their activities (dealing with women's rights, development, freedom of expression, protection against torture, public freedoms, studies and researches and legal aid) and locations (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and France).

"Human rights organisations find it quite difficult to communicate with the public without using media outlets. Arab governments dominate traditional media outlets such as newspapers and TV stations. So we have nowhere to go but the electronic media. These new and widely spread media started to pay more attention to supporting human rights issues," said Gamal Eid.

The number of Internet users around the Arab world in 2007 was estimated to be 29 million, i.e. 8.7 per cent of the Arab world's population. In the last decade, there was an upsurge in the number of Arab Internet users. In 1997 there were around 600,000. This means that the number of Internet users in the Arab World has increased 50 times over the last ten years.

This huge rise in Internet use predicts the future of the Internet in the Arab world, putting into consideration that that new technologies are now adopting the Arabic language, a service that was not availably only a few years ago along with a poor infrastructure in telecommunications in most of the Arab countries, high communication cost, illiteracy, and implanted suspicions of the Internet raised by Arab governments, the study said.

Despite suspicions surrounding the concept of "human rights" in the region, regarding it as a double standard, the human rights movement in the Arab world, and internationally, has succeeded to assert itself as a pressure group with a frame of reference against many governments, particularly the oppressive ones.

The new generation of the human rights movement manifested itself with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, despite ferocious US opposition, thus transforming the role of the movement from advocacy to prosecution. The insurmountable effort played by human rights organisations for ICC to see light has consolidated the role of nongovernmental organisations and human rights organisations, whether in the Arab World or in the world as a whole, responding strongly to all those who were suspicious of human rights organisations.

Most criticism of human rights organisations are led by governments infamous for their oppression and manipulation of ideological and religious beliefs to justify the continuing sufferings they inflict on their own people.

The study said it is not surprising that human rights organisations resort to the Internet in order to promote their goals and campaigns. However, organisations vary in how they use this important tool. Thousands of visitors everyday visit international human rights websites, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and HRinfo, as they provide information to the public, journalists, and researchers, providing also an opportunity for the participation of activists.

Date posted: October 14, 2007 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2811