The power and influence the media wields in today’s world is undisputable. Whether in shaping public thought or steering conflict resolution, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the media can make or break a situation.
We witnessed this power at play during the Cold War, when media opinion deepened the rift between the Western and Eastern camps. Again, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, a spate of revolutions occurred, brought about by ideologies promoted by the media’s dominant call that unified the masses behind a single public opinion.
It is clear from these examples that the media has the capability to drive people’s actions and behaviours. In today’s context, we need to examine how we can leverage this powerful tool to promote a culture of responsible citizenship and development. How can we ensure the media remains a stabilizing force at a time of conflicts and upheavals? Or, perhaps more importantly, how can we align our development plans as outlined in the Tanfeedh programme with our media’s agenda so that it conveys the programme’s accomplishments to the public? And how can we boost the confidence in the feasibility of the programme’s objectives to enhance stability that is a principal element of the development plans?
It is important to note that that despite their efforts to ensure high levels of transparency, governments find it challenging to communicate their plans without the support of the media.
Images portrayed by the media transcend reality. Quite often we notice that countries that have excelled over others have a less-than-favorable image in the global arena because they have not successfully utilized the media to promote their achievements.
For example, the U.S. has boosted its position as a leader of the free world through lofty ideas that have always shaped the American citizenship consciousness. Concepts such as the American Dream, Land of the Free, and Land of Opportunities project a much stronger image in the minds of outsiders than the country’s actual political and economic circumstances merit. Across the U.S., media outlets, academic institutions, arts organisations, and even Hollywood have been quick to jump on the brand America bandwagon to promote this image.
Interestingly, the reverse is equally true. Nations that have neglected the power of ideology have not had a significant impact on the consciousness of their citizens. This explains why even countries that place a high premium on their people’s welfare and are firmly on track to achieving development, sometimes face political unrest.
We must ask ourselves why citizens would rebel against a government that takes such good care of them. Why would they want to jeopardize their enviable benefits to seek illusory ideals created by the media machine? Amid the harsh realities of the Arab world, the answer lies in media propaganda, whose influence is second to none.
It is unfortunate that media propaganda that may at times be far removed from reality can have such a powerful impact in shaping citizen consciousness. Equally alarmingly, for a very long time, many Arab countries lacked domestic media frameworks capable of giving international media entities a run for their money. This scenario resulted in the population being exposed to solely foreign interpretations of news and developments that were not entirely accurate and often had an undue impact on the destiny of Arab nations.
Our region will be at a great loss if we fail to realise this fact. The solution lies in building our own national and regional media networks that can withstand global competition and become true partners of our development programmes. Partners that protect the truth and refute ideas that are alien and damaging to our culture and national identity.
Oman has taken a momentous step towards enhancing the citizenship consciousness of its people in implementing the Tanfeedh programme that draws upon the cultural, political, and social experience of Omanis for the wider benefit of the country. The programme has uncovered great financial capabilities that have the potential to create a multitude of opportunities across all sectors, as well as a wealth of human capital within Oman.
The key objectives of Tanfeedh, including development, diversity and sustainability, resonate with the Omanis’ unwavering belief in harmony and unity throughout their historical journey. I hope the media will promote the programme as a natural progression of Oman’s civilisational project. Our accomplishments should propagate a culture, morals, and values that are part of the authentic Omani heritage. The national media’s ability to link the concepts of citizenship, identity, belonging, and social harmony to development and progress will play a decisive role in the success of Oman’s development plans.
The role of the media should be to instill a sense of responsibility for the nation’s development in its people. Realising and accepting their responsibility makes people feel connected to public policies, and creates a relationship between the citizens and the government based on a dialogue about the country’s future instead of conflicts and disagreements, as we can see in many instances today.
The main reason for the stability of nations is their sense of civilisational uniqueness that makes them immune to external influences and agendas. Our perception of our future as a nation should be the result of our country’s actual achievements, not an illusory image portrayed by the media. Furthermore, we should not attempt to emulate the experiences of other nations just because media outlets promote them as outstanding and unique. This copy/paste mechanism will widen the chasm between citizens and country, and create gaps in citizenship consciousness that can be penetrated by foreign propaganda.
If Arab media outlets can overcome their limitations in engaging the audience, and become more effective in building and enhancing people’s identity and sense of belonging, they will positively impact the future of each Arab nation.
As the essence of development consciousness, citizenship consciousness is the result of collaborative efforts. The national media plays a significant role in shaping this attribute in a nation’s citizens - just as it does with political or social consciousness.
* The author is the Executive Chairman of Investcorp and an International Advisor to the Brookings Instituition. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.